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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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9th Circuit Judge Betty Binns Fletcher, 89

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Judge Betty Binns Fletcher, who earned a reputation on the 9th Circuit as a trailblazer for women in law, has died at 89.

A native of Tacoma, Wash., Fletcher practiced law at a time when women could not work as attorneys, and she eventually became first female partner of a major firm in the region.

Fletcher earned her bachelor's degree from Stanford University in 1943, and left law school after one year to relocate with her World War II veteran husband to New Jersey.

She became a homemaker and mother of four before turning her attention back to law. She received her law degree in 1956, finishing first in her class and graduating Phi Beta Kappa and Order of the Coif.

The Seattle firm of Preston, Thorgrimson & Horowitz hired Fletcher that same year. She was named partner at Preston, Thorgrimson, Ellis, Holman & Fletcher in 1980, becoming the first woman partner at a major Pacific Northwest law firm.

One of her clients was renowned civil liberties protector Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, who became the youngest justice ever to be appointed to the bench at the age of 40. Douglas served nearly 37 years before his death at age 91.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Fletcher to the 9th Circuit in 1979. Some of her other accomplishments include becoming the first woman elected president of the Seattle-King County Bar Association and the first woman governor of the Washington State Bar Association. She also served as co-chair of the committee that passed the Equal Rights Amendment to the Washington Constitution, and helped secure the state Legislature's passage of the federal Equal Rights Amendment.

Fletcher received the King County Bar Association's highest honor, the William L. Dwyer Outstanding Jurist Award, in 2007 and was the guest of honor at a 2010 University of Washington School of Law symposium, which focused on her life in law, in 2010.

Fletcher took senior status in 1998 to resolve a conflict in the Senate after her son, William Fletcher, was appointed to the 9th Circuit. Though senior judges typically handle a reduced caseload, the elder Fletcher kept her schedule full on the court.

Last year alone, she sat on panels that decided more than 400 cases, including 182 that involved oral argument. She authored many important opinions, in many areas of law in 33 years on the bench, most notably in Native American tribal law, free speech, employment discrimination, environmental protection and water rights.

Her son and colleague on the court praised his mother. "Mom was a wonderful judge - always caring in her concern for fairness, and always careful in her legal analysis," the younger Fletcher said in a statement. "She spoke truth to power, and just as important she spoke truth in exercising power. She has been my inspiration and model."

A memorial will be held at noon in Benaroya Hall, at 200 University Street in Seattle, on Nov. 10.

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