Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Ann Claire Williams

In 1999, Ann Claire Williams was appointed by President William J. Clinton to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She became the first judge of color appointed to the Seventh Circuit and the third woman of color to serve on any United States Court of Appeals. Before assuming that position, Judge Williams, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, served on the United States District Court for the Northern District. She is still the youngest woman of color ever appointed to a federal judgeship.

Judge Williams has a long history of service to the judiciary. She was the first woman and judge of color appointed Chair of the Court Administration and Case Management Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which makes policy recommendations in this area for the federal judiciary. She also served for six years on the Supreme Court Fellows Program Commission and is currently a member of the Judicial Branch Committee of the United States Judicial Conference. Serving as Treasurer and President, she was the first judge of color to become an officer of the Federal Judges Association, which represents more than 900 federal judges, and works to preserve the independence of the federal judiciary.

Judge Williams also has a longstanding commitment to education and training, both in the United States and abroad. In collaboration with organizations including Lawyers Without Borders, the United States Departments of Justice and State, the Virtue Foundation, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA), and Fordham Law School, she has traveled to Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, and Uganda to train judges and lawyers on topics such as domestic and gender violence, judicial ethics, case management, alternative dispute resolution, and trial advocacy. She has also served as a member of international training delegations, teaching trial and appellate advocacy at the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. She has served as an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern Law School and taught trial advocacy at Harvard. In addition, she has judged moot court competitions at law schools across the country, including Harvard and Yale, and has served as a lecturer and instructor in many programs for federal judges, practicing attorneys, and law students.

Judge Williams has committed herself to public interest work and expanding the pipeline for minorities and women. In 1977, she co-founded Minority Legal Education Resources, which has helped over 4,000 lawyers pass the Illinois bar at a rate that equals or exceeds the annual passage rate. In 1987, she helped found the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Chicago. In 1991, Judge Williams’s order in In Re Folding Carton (N. D. Ill 1991) directed $2.3 million in cy pres funds to create a public interest post-graduate legal fellowship program administered by Equal Justice Works. To date, more than 1,000 lawyers have received two-year fellowships and law school tuition repayment assistance, allowing them to provide underrepresented populations effective access to the justice system. Judge Williams remains actively involved in these organizations.

In 1992, Judge Williams co-founded the Just The Beginning Foundation (JTBF), initially created to celebrate the integration of the federal judiciary, but which has evolved into a pipeline organization that creates programs for students from middle school through law school that inspires and equips students of color and other underrepresented groups to pursue legal and judicial careers. She serves on the Board of Directors of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, and she sits on the Boards of Trustees of Carnegie Corporation of New York and the University of Notre Dame. She also serves on the Judicial Advisory Board of JTBF, the Steering Committee of the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School, and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Judge Williams has been the recipient of numerous awards, including being honored by Newsweek Daily Beast as one of the 150 Fearless Women in the World (2012), the Leadership Institute for Women of Color Attorneys, Inc.’s Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award (2012), the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago’s Pioneer Award (2012), American Judicature Society’s Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award (2010), Chicago Inn of Court’s Joel M. Flaum Award (2010), the American Bar Association’s Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award (2008), the National Bar Association’s Gertrude E. Rush Award (2008), the Chicago Bar Association’s John Paul Stevens Award, and the Arabella Babb Mansfield Award from the National Association of Women Lawyers (2005).

Judge Williams began her career as a music and third-grade teacher in the inner city schools of Detroit after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Wayne State University, and a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the University of Michigan. She received her law degree from the University of Notre Dame. Before joining the federal bench, she was an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago where she was Chief of the Organized Drug Enforcement Task Force. She was also a law clerk to Judge Robert A. Sprecher on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the court on which she now sits.