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Fletcher, Judge Betty Binns (1923-2012)

HistoryLink.org Essay 10301 : Printer-Friendly Format

Judge Betty Binns Fletcher was appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) in 1979 and carried a full caseload there for 33 years, working to within days of her death on October 22, 2012. Born in Tacoma in 1923, the daughter of an attorney, she knew from a young age that she would pursue a career in the law. Although she graduated at the top of her class at the University of Washington School of Law in 1956, she had difficulty finding work at a time when the legal profession was dominated by men. She was finally hired by a prominent Seattle firm and stayed in private practice until her appointment to the court. Raised in a family of New Deal Democrats, she was recognized as one of a diminishing number of unapologetic liberals to preside in the federal courts. As the nation's judiciary became more conservative during the last two decades of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first, she found herself increasingly in the minority, but stayed true to her convictions. Judge Fletcher was married to Robert Fletcher (1918-2011), a UW professor of law for more than 30 years, who died in 2011. They raised four children, including one, William, who himself became a Ninth Circuit judge and served with his mother in that court.

An Accomplished Family

Betty Binns was born on March 29, 1923, in Tacoma, the second of four children of John H. Binns (1895-1980), an attorney, and Carrie Hammond Binns (1890-1974), a homemaker and aspiring artist. Although her birth name was "Elizabeth," she would be known throughout her long and eventful life as simply Betty.

John Binns had been raised on a stump farm in Shelton, Mason County; Carrie Hammond was a native of Tacoma, the daughter of a doctor who switched careers and became a successful attorney. The two met while attending Washington State College (later Washington State University) in Pullman, from which they both graduated in 1916. Binns was then selected as a Rhodes Scholar, only the second to come from what was still a rather small, rural college. Because the Rhodes Trust awarded scholarships only to single men, the couple deferred marriage. Binns attended Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1916, but withdrew when America entered World War I in April 1917. He returned to the U.S., volunteered for military duty, and married Carrie.

The Rhodes Trust later relaxed its rules, and servicemen who married during the war were permitted to finish their scholarships. The Binnses moved together to England, and in 1921 Oxford awarded Binns degrees with honors in jurisprudence and civil law. Before the couple left to return to America, their first child, Margaret (d. 2002), always known as Peggy Jean, was born.

The Binnses of Tacoma

John Binns would have been an attractive recruit for any law firm in America, but his wife was homesick for the Northwest. The young family settled in Tacoma, where John opened a law practice in 1922. Betty, their second child, came in 1923, followed by another girl, Martha (later Martha Binns Paddock) (1928-2008) and, some years later, a son, John Jr. (b. 1934).

John Binns was very active in civic affairs, progressive causes, and the Democratic Party. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) appointed him director of the Washington division of the National Youth Administration, a New Deal program that provided training and work for those between the ages of 16 and 24. He became a member of the Washington State College Board of Regents in 1945 and briefly served as a Pierce County superior court judge the following year. He also sat for several years on a Rhodes Scholar selection committee, and decades later this would prove pivotal to his daughter Betty's success.

In a 2006 interview, Judge Fletcher said of her parents:

"[My father] spotted me as the one of his three girls I guess who was feisty and argumentative and let me go to his office with him on Saturdays and occasionally if he had a good trial would allow me to drop out of school for a day and go to court. I knew from an early age I was going to be a lawyer. Of course my father was -- in many ways he was a dreamer and kind of unrealistic as he thought a woman could do anything. He didn't realize the barriers that were out there for a woman. So, I kind of sailed through school and college just thinking you know women could do anything ... .

"When we were little, [my mother] taught us to read far before school age. So when I started school when I was 6, I was reading all sorts of things and I was doing simple mathematics and had a little bit of history so that she was very interested in our educational progress ... . And she still had another side to her which was kind of great empathy. It was during the Depression time so that she was always feeding people who didn't have enough to eat. People came to the door looking for work, she couldn't give them work, she could give them food. And she had kind of an off-beat set of friends very interesting characters, but kind of far from the mainstream folks" (ABA Oral History, Vol. 1, pp. 9, 12).

The Binns children grew up in a family steeped in the beliefs that powered the New Deal; animated by intellect, energy, and an unstinting work ethic; and devoted to the ideals of good citizenship and public service. The family tree was (and is) festooned with high achievers -- practicing attorneys, a doctor, a leading environmentalist, two law professors, and a mother/son pairing on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, to mention but two generations.

A Stint at Stanford

Betty Binns was a bit of a prodigy, graduating as class valedictorian from Tacoma's Stadium High School at the age of 16. Her father forbade her to attend college in the East -- he feared that she would marry there, and that he would never see his grandchildren. She settled on Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Shortly after America entered World War II in December 1941, the country's colleges and universities were being drained of draft-eligible male students. Slots in graduate programs in professions long dominated by men went begging, and universities began to accept female students to fill them. While still working on her undergraduate degree, Betty applied to Stanford Law School and was accepted, becoming the only female member of her first-year class. It was here that she met the man to whom she would be married for almost 70 years. Robert L. Fletcher, a native of Portland, Oregon, had graduated at the top of his Stanford class in engineering in 1939, then briefly attended graduate school at M.I.T. before returning to Stanford to go to law school, where he and Binns began dating.

Binns excelled in her law classes, earning straight A's, although she would later say with modesty that the school may have been "soft grading" due to the circumstances of war (ABA Oral History, Vol. 1, p. 17). Her strong egalitarian streak was displayed when she joined with a group of other students in a campaign to rid the campus of sororities, deeming them "undemocratic and kind of elitist" (ABA Interview, p. 18). They succeeded; women students began refusing to participate in the annual recruiting "rush," and the sorority buildings were converted to ancillary dormitories. (It was not a lasting victory; Stanford today [2013] again has a thriving "Greek life.") Binns studied history as an undergraduate while also completing her first year of law. She and Bob Fletcher were wed on June 13, 1942, at the Binns's family home at Browns Point, north of Tacoma. But for brief separations due to professional obligations, the couple would be together until Bob's death in 2011.

Life During Wartime

World War II may have eased Betty Binns's way into law school, but it disrupted her first years as Betty Fletcher. Before he could complete his law studies, Robert Fletcher, with his background in engineering, was drafted into the military and selected for officer training. The newlyweds first moved to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he earned his commission while she wrote her senior thesis. He was then transferred to Moffett Field near San Francisco, and while there Betty finished her degree work. They then moved to New Jersey, where Bob was stationed at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, site of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster, flying blimps used to spot enemy submarines off the East Coast.

The couple's shared views would get them in hot water while in New Jersey. They occasionally were able to buy enough rationed gasoline for trips into the nearby town of Toms River, and they made it a practice to give sailors a lift back to the base. When Betty traveled to town alone, she would still take on passengers for the trip back. This would have been fine, even welcome, but the Fletchers insisted on offering rides to black servicemen as well as white. This caused considerable consternation on the base, but the couple was undaunted. Betty Fletcher would later say that this was the first time she had directly encountered racial discrimination. The military was never a great fit for either of them, as she later recalled:

"This was a period of about two years and then the war ended and my husband was as anxious to get out of the Navy as I was to get out of being a Navy wife" (ABA Oral History, Vol. 2, p. 25)

Family Time

The couple's first child, Susan (later Susan Fletcher French), was born in 1943 in Palo Alto, and their second, son William Alan, in 1945 at Philadelphia (the couple was living in Lakehurst at the time, but went to the city, about 50 miles distant, for the delivery). As soon as Bob was mustered out of the military, the Fletchers returned to Palo Alto, where they both enrolled in Stanford Law School. Then, when he was just 8 months old, William (called "Willy") came down with a serious illness and required major surgery. During his recuperation, his mother could not bring herself to leave his daily care to others. She quit law school and tended to her child, while her husband completed his studies. Once that was done, the family returned to the Northwest, first moving to Seattle, where Bob went to work for a Seattle law firm. After a short time they moved to Tacoma, and Bob joined his father-in-law's practice.

The family soon grew, with the arrivals of daughter Kathy (b. 1950) and son Paul (b. 1953). Now with four children, the youngest less than a year old, Betty Fletcher faced a decision:

"I had all 4 children and it seemed like a fairly difficult transition to leave mommyhood and housekeeping to get back into school, but I realized that if I didn't make the break and do it, it would become more and more difficult as the years went on and with the support of my husband and my parents, who leased their own home and moved in our home so that they could be with the children while I was commuting from Tacoma to Seattle to the law school. So in a way I was very blessed and almost spoiled by the care that was given to me and the children so that although it was challenging, it was certainly then doable for me" (ABA Oral History, Vol. 2, p. 25).

She enrolled in law school in 1954 at the University of Washington, one of only three women in her class. Her parents and husband shared child-care duties during the day; she commuted to Seattle on the old Pacific Highway, leaving early in the morning and returning late each the afternoon. There were classes on Saturdays as well, and for those she would take along her two oldest children, who considered it a treat to sit in the back of the room reading or coloring, then have lunch with their mother before heading back to Tacoma.

Up until now, armed with strong academic skills, the confidence instilled in her by her parents, and a little bit of luck, Betty Fletcher had overcome every obstacle that society put in the path of women during the 1940s and 1950s. She graduated at the top of her law-school class in 1956, earning Order of the Coif honors. In that same year, her husband began what was to be a long career as a law professor at the school. The couple moved back to Seattle, and Betty started looking for work as an attorney. In one of the few sobering setbacks in a highly accomplished life, she found that the all-male law firms of Seattle would not gladly or easily open their doors to women, especially women with children, no matter how impressive their qualifications.

Knocking on Doors

If Betty Fletcher had been a man her credentials would have given her the pick of any law firm in the state of Washington, perhaps the entire country. Instead, she found that all of her academic qualifications and honors were negated by her gender and her motherhood, and that no one was interested in what she had to offer. As she recalled many years later:

"When the discrimination really hit me was when I went out to get a job. I told the professor who was in charge of kind of lining up interviews for the graduating students that I was interested in practicing in Seattle, and I would like to have some interviews. But I didn't hear anything. The other students were going off on interviews.

"I was walking down the faculty corridor, and I heard his big, booming voice. His door was open. He said, 'Well, you wouldn't consider a woman, would you?' So of course I knew that that was not going to be a fertile entrée into the job market" (ERA Oral History).

Surprised, disappointed, but not daunted, Fletcher gathered up her résumé and academic records and hit the streets of downtown Seattle, walking into law firms unbidden, asking to speak to the hiring partner. Receptionists, thinking that she was there to apply for secretarial work, would see her in. She would present her credentials, which were invariably deemed impressive. But, just as invariably, she was told again and again that a major law firm was no place for a woman, and certainly not a woman with four children. But she kept knocking on doors, and her persistence eventually paid off when she ended up in the offices of the small but prominent Seattle firm of Preston, Thorgrimson & Horowitz. There she was interviewed by one of the firm's younger partners, Jim Ellis (b. 1921):

"He was quite interested in my résumé. We struck it off in a friendly sort of way. He insisted that the other partners talk with me. They gathered around, and we talked. Then one of them said, I think it was Dick Thorgrimson, 'Well, you know, Charlie isn't here. Let's face it. Charlie would never accept a woman in the firm'" (ERA Oral History).

"Charlie" was Charles Horowitz (1905-1989), the firm's lead partner and a legend in Northwest legal circles. He was born in the tenement district of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where his Jewish, Russian-immigrant father was a cloth-cutter. The family moved to Seattle when Horowitz was 8, and he excelled in school and worked a variety menial jobs in his off-school hours. He started classes at the University of Washington at the age of 17, earning Phi Beta Kappa honors and graduating magna cum laude in 1925.

Horowitz moved on immediately to the university's School of Law, graduating in 1927 with summa cum laude honors. He spent three years in England on a Rhodes scholarship, then returned to build a successful practice and a book of influential clients. When Fletcher came calling, Horowitz had been a pillar of the state bar for many years. Now he loomed as the last obstacle standing between her and a job in her chosen profession.

What Goes Around ...

Dispirited by predictions that Horowitz would veto her hiring, Fletcher sought counsel from one of her law-school professors, Warren Shattuck (1908-1995). Shattuck noted that Horowitz would be at the upcoming Order of the Coif banquet, and told her, "You come and I'll make sure you sit by him. And you sell yourself" (ERA Oral History).

Although never burdened by excessive reticence or lack of confidence, Fletcher was relieved to find that she didn't need to convince Horowitz of her worth to the firm. Her father, unwittingly, had paved the way nearly 30 years earlier. As she recalled that crucial meeting:

"It wasn't because I sold myself. It was because he found out that my father was John Binns, and in regard to that, he said, 'This Jewish boy,' referring to himself, 'would never have gotten a Rhodes scholarship if it hadn't have been for your father.' That's how I got a job" (ERA Oral History).

So it was that Betty Fletcher, wife and mother of four, landed a very rare position as a woman associate in a major Seattle law firm. She started out as all new lawyers do, slogging through grunt work for partners, briefing obscure points of law, putting in long hours, honing her skills. Charles Horowitz, once predicted to bar her way, became instead a valuable mentor.

Fletcher's next break came within just a year or so when Horowitz was serving as president of the Seattle Bar Association (later the King County Bar Association). He decided to publish a monthly newspaper for local attorneys and asked, or rather appointed, Fletcher to be the editor. She was able to use her position to become acquainted with many of the city's leading attorneys and judges through the simple expedient of interviewing them for the paper.

Horowitz's influence helped Fletcher in other ways as well. He would accompany her to court appearances, introduce her to the judge (with whom he was invariably well-acquainted), then let her stand or fall on her own. And, although demanding, he was protective of his protégé. On one occasion during her early years the firm hired a new lawyer, a young man who "was just completely incapable of working with women" (ABA Oral History, Vol. 1, p. 1). Horowitz backed up Fletcher, and the new associate soon was sent to seek his fortune elsewhere. And in 1968, when Horowitz was appointed to sit on the newly formed state Court of Appeals, he decided that Betty Fletcher was the attorney to whom he would "bequeath" his client list.

Years of Practice

Fletcher would stay with Preston, Thorgrimson, & Horowitz for her entire career as a practicing attorney. Within just a few years she was made partner, one of the first woman partners in any major law firm in the United States and the very first woman partner in a major Pacific Northwest firm. After Horowitz had moved on to a judgeship, she got her name on the door when the firm became Preston, Thorgrimson, Ellis, Holman & Fletcher. (It is now, in 2013, known as K&L Gates, and after several mergers has grown to become a leading international law firm, employing more than 2,000 lawyers in offices on five continents.)

It seemed as if almost everything Betty Fletcher did professionally outside of the daily practice of law was a first of some sort. In 1972 she became the first woman to lead the Seattle Bar Association, and this made her the first woman member of the American Bar Association's Commission of Bar Presidents. She later was appointed the first woman member of the Washington State Bar Association's Board of Governors, and in 1978 she became the first woman admitted to full membership in Seattle's exclusive Rainier Club. While doing all this, Fletcher carried on a varied and successful law practice, working on estate planning, probates, mortgages, security transactions, corporate finance, mergers, and a variety of other matters. One of the clients she inherited from Horowitz was William O. Douglas (1898-1980), the longest-serving justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, known both for his strong liberal views and irascible temperament.

The Women's Movement

It was to the cause of women's rights that Fletcher would devote much of her time and considerable energy. The national women's movement was getting started in the 1960s, and Dan Evans (b. 1925), a moderate Republican with an expansive view of women's rights and abilities, took office as Washington's governor in 1965. The time was ripe for a woman of Fletcher's skill and status to make her presence felt in the cause. In 1970, she helped found the Seattle-King County chapter of the National Organization for Women, and in 1971 she was appointed to the Evans-created Washington State Women's Council.

Reproductive rights including the right to choose abortion came to the fore as a major issue during these years as well. With the help of Republican Joel Pritchard, a law liberalizing access to the procedure passed the legislature, subject to voter approval. Fletcher was asked to head the campaign to win that battle, and on November 3, 1970, voters passed Referendum 20, which granted an absolute right to terminate a pregnancy "within four lunar months after conception" ("Abortion Reform in Washington State").

Working on the Women's Council, Fletcher was making plans to pursue several specific issues, including improving women's access to credit and modifying the state's community property laws. She would later credit a male council member, Robert J. Williams, with raising her sights:

"Mr. Williams sat back and said, you know, whatever we do is going to be controversial. Let's go for broke. Let's pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the federal constitution and also amend the State of Washington Constitution. We had a couple of meetings talking about the pros and cons of that and then decided to go for broke ... ." (ABA Oral History, Vol. 2, p. 27).

Fletcher became chair of the Equal Rights Amendment Committee, and in 1972 an equal rights amendment to the State Constitution was passed by the Washington State legislature. The following year, the legislature also voted to approve the national ERA; after a long battle it failed to obtain approval in enough other states to be ratified. But Article 31 of the Washington State Constitution now reads: "Equality of rights and responsibility under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex," and grants the legislature "the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article" (Washington State Constitution, Article 3, Secs. 1 and 2).

Judge Betty

Before the 1987 confirmation hearings for Ronald Reagan's (1911-2004) Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork (1927-2012), a president's choice for a seat on a federal court was granted a great deal of deference by the Senate. This had not, however, led to any appreciable number of women judges. After Bork's nomination was defeated by a wave of Democratic dissent (and by anger over his role in the infamous "Saturday Night Massacre," in which President Richard Nixon [1913-1994] dismissed the independent prosecutor in the Watergate case), the judicial confirmation process began to take on some of the characteristics of a blood sport. Conservative Republicans and some southern Democrats would routinely refuse to vote for appointees deemed too liberal; liberals, with less unanimity and less success, would try to block the most conservative nominees.

Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) would be the last Democratic president able to take full advantage of easy judicial confirmations. When he took office in January 1977, only one of the 97 federal appellate judges and five of the nearly 400 federal district court judges were women. When he left office four years later, he had appointed 11 more women to the Court of Appeals and 29 to the district courts. Carter would appoint three women to the Ninth Circuit appeals bench. The first was Mary Schroeder (b. 1940); the second was Betty Fletcher, who took the bench on September 26, 1979; the third was Dorothy Nelson (b. 1928), who was confirmed just three months later. The only other woman on the Ninth Circuit bench was Shirley Hufstedler (b. 1925), who had been appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) in 1968. She would resign to become the country's first Secretary of Education.

Betty Binns Fletcher would be one of the last unabashedly liberal judges to reach the federal appellate courts. The next Democratic president after Carter, Bill Clinton (b. 1946), faced with a hostile Congress, was forced to nominate less-controversial moderates for the bench. Reagan and fellow Republican presidents George H. W. Bush (b. 1924) and George W. Bush (b. 1946), whose terms bracketed Clinton's, had better partisan success, managing to put a number of staunch conservatives on the federal  bench at all levels. The remaining liberals became a beleaguered minority. Some sought accommodation with their peers, becoming themselves more centrist. Others, Judge Fletcher among them, did not, defending ideals a lifetime in the making. But she was well aware of the limitations of her position as a a judge on an intermediate appellate court; she respected legal precedent, even when it compelled a result other than one she may have preferred. Nevertheless, she became a favorite target of conservatives, who frequently accused her, and many other judges, of exceeding their authority and legislating from the bench.

Outmaneuvering the Right

In 1995, President Clinton nominated Judge Fletcher's son William to a seat on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Then 72 years old, with 18 years on the bench, Betty Fletcher was faced with Republican demands that she either resign or her son's nomination be withdrawn. The justification was an ancient and oft-ignored anti-nepotism statute. Two brothers, Morris and Richard Arnold, were then sitting on the Eighth Circuit bench, and years earlier brothers Learned and August Hand served together in the Second Circuit. But Republicans were determined to keep another progressive voice off a court that they deemed already too liberal by half.

Leading the fight against William Fletcher's confirmation was a Utah Republican, Senator Orrin Hatch (b. 1934), a staunch conservative and chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, and he was able to bottle up the nomination for years. Finally, in 1999, a compromise was reached. Betty Fletcher agreed to assume "senior" status on the court, thus freeing up an additional seat that Clinton agreed to fill with a nominee acceptable to Washington State's Republican senator, Slade Gorton (b. 1928). William Fletcher's Senate confirmation came soon after.

Federal appeals courts judges who go on senior status traditionally cut their caseloads dramatically, and they are required to work only one-quarter time to receive full salary. Reduced activity is not mandated, however, and Judge Betty Fletcher simply ignored the tradition. From assuming senior status in 2009 up through her death in 2012, she continued to carry a full load, hearing up to 600 cases a year. As Nan Aron, head of the group Alliance for Justice, noted in 2009, "Let's just say Betty Fletcher is having the last laugh" ("Judge Betty's Revenge").

Judge Fletcher was more diplomatic when, in 2011, she explained why she continued to maintain a grueling workload:

"Our court is burdened with a tremendous caseload and I feel it is my duty and privilege to continue to work to help alleviate that burden. I enjoy the work that the court offers me. The cases are interesting and challenging. I enjoy the daily interaction with my law clerks, my colleagues and the entire court family. But most of all I enjoy serving the public and will continue to do so" ("The Honorable Betty Binns Fletcher").

A Lasting Legacy

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hears appeals from the federal district courts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and the territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. As an arbiter of all federal laws and the U.S. Constitution, the court handles a vast range of cases, including such controversial issues as immigration, environmental protection, racial and sexual discrimination, affirmative action, gay rights, and the death penalty. Even though it is one of the most oft-reversed circuits in the nation (in the 2008-2009 session, the Supreme Court overturned, in whole or in part, 15 of the 16 Ninth Circuit decisions it reviewed), it decides over 12,000 cases a year, and most of its rulings stand. This and the breadth of its jurisdiction give it great influence, particularly within its own circuit.

At the time of her death, Betty Fletcher was one of 48 judges on the Ninth Circuit appellate bench, but her long tenure, keen intellect, and clarity of conviction made hers an influential, if increasingly lonely, voice on the court. The circuit courts are second highest in the land, answerable only to the U.S. Supreme Court. As the latter became more conservative over the years, Judge Fletcher's decisions were overruled with increasing frequency. But she never trimmed her sails to fit the prevailing political winds, and, in the words of her son and fellow jurist, William Fletcher, she earned "a distinguished record of reversals" ("Tribute to Judge Betty Binns Fletcher").

Any meaningful review of Judge Betty Binns Fletcher's jurisprudence is far beyond the scope of this essay. Among her notable opinions were ones upholding California's right to impose a moratorium on new nuclear plants; approving a gender-based affirmative action program to remedy a historical imbalance in a public agency's workforce; affirming an injunction against the United States Navy's use of sonar exercises that were suspected of causing injury to marine mammals; and a decision staying the execution of a convicted murderer for due process violations. In the latter case, Judge Fletcher wrote "the consequence of our failure to act would be the execution of a person as to whom a grave question exists whether he is innocent" (Thomas v. Calderon, 120 F.3rd at 1048). In a clear example of the tension between it and the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision, reinstated the death penalty, characterizing the lower court's stay as "a grave abuse of discretion" (Thompson v. Calderon, 523 U.S. at 528).

In the Words of Others

Judge Betty Fletcher's legal legacy is to be found in the opinions she authored and the tributes she received from philosophical friend and foe alike. Among the latter:

  • Fellow circuit judge Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a liberal: "Betty Fletcher was the best. We won't get another judge like her in the foreseeable future, if ever -- on this circuit or any other. Let us never forget her courage, brilliance, integrity, compassion, concern for humanity and understanding of the true purpose of the law -- justice" ("Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Mourns ... ").
  • Her colleague, Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, a conservative: "Judge Fletcher was a remarkable woman, diminutive in size but with an indomitable spirit and a seemingly endless supply of energy. She was one of the hardest working judges on the Court, active or senior ... . Her contributions to the law and to the Court have been many and she will be greatly missed" ("Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Mourns ... ").
  • Shayne C. Stevenson, one of her many dedicated law clerks: "Judge Fletcher reigned as a mighty force for the principles of equality and justice for all" ("The Honorable Betty Binns Fletcher").
  • Attorney Kari Glover, who joined Fletcher's law firm in 1975 and considered her a mentor: "She was a game changer. She was tough, demanding. Sometimes she made you uncomfortable with her expectations. But she was also fair" ("Obituary: Appeals Court Judge Betty Fletcher").
  • And finally, from her son, Judge William Fletcher: "Mom was a wonderful judge ...  always caring in her concern for fairness, and always careful in her legal analysis. She spoke truth to power, and just as important she spoke truth in exercising power" ("Ninth Circuit Judge Betty Fletcher, 1923-2012").

Judge Fletcher was named Seattle Woman of the Year in 1971 and awarded the American Bar Association's Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award in 1992. She was honored by the Federal Bar Association in 2000 with the planting of a cherry tree near the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C. In 2007, Fletcher received the William L. Dwyer Outstanding Jurist Award from the King County Bar Association, the organization's highest honor.

Judge Betty Binns Fletcher died on October 22, 2012, after 33 years on the bench, survived by her four children, eight grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and her brother, John H. Binns Jr. In her last full year on the appeals court she sat on panels that decided more than 400 cases. Just five days before her death she had been seated in her courtroom, listening to oral arguments, dutiful to the very end.

Sources:
Oral History of Betty Binns Fletcher," Vol. 1, Women Trailblazers in the Law, ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, Vol. 1, available at (http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/directories/women_trailblazers/fletcher _interview_i.authcheckdam.pdf); "Oral History of Betty Binns Fletcher," Vol. 2, Women Trailblazers in the Law, ABA Commission on Women in the Profession,  Vol. 2, available at (http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/directories/women_trailblazers/fletcher _interview_ii.authcheckdam.pdf); "Betty Fletcher Interview," ERA Oral History Project, Washington Women's History Consortium website accessed January 13, 2013 (http://www.washingtonwomenshistory.org/themes/womensrights/eraoh/fletcher.aspx);  Mary L. Clark, "Carter’s Groundbreaking Appointment of Women to the Federal Bench: His Other 'Human Rights' Record," Association of American Law Schools website accessed January 14, 2013 (http://www.aals.org/profdev/women/clark.pdf); Harry Schneider, "Betty Binns Fletcher:  An Icon Remembered," King County Bar Association website accessed January 14, 2013 (https://www.kcba.org/newsevents/barbulletin/BView.aspx?Month=12&Year=2012&AID=article2.htm);  "Two New W.S.C. Regents Have Many Campus Ties," Washington State Alumni Powwow, Vol. 34, No. 8 (April, 1945), p. 4; "Betty Fletcher Interview with Maria McCloud,"  ERA Oral History Project, Washington Women's History Consortium website accessed January 11, 2013 (http://www.washingtonwomenshistory.org/themes/womensrights/eraoh/fletcher.aspx); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Washington voters re-elect Senator Henry Jackson by a record margin, retain six of seven U.S. Representatives, and legalize abortion on November 3, 1970" (by Kit Oldham and Cassandra Tate), and "Abortion Reform in Washington State" (by Cassandra Tate), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed January 14-15, 2013); "Betty Binns Fletcher, 1923-2012," ForeverMissed website accessed January 10, 2013 (http://www.forevermissed.com/betty-binns-fletcher/lifestory#lifestory); "Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Mourns Passing of Judge Betty Binns Fletcher," American Indian Studies Center (UCLA) website accessed January 13, 2013 (http://www.aisc.ucla.edu/news/ninth_fletcher.asp); Shayne C. Stevenson, "The Honorable Betty Binns Fletcher: A Tribute To a Legal Trailblazer," Federal Bar Association, Western District of Washington magazine, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Winter 2012), pp. 6, 16-18; Judge William A. Fletcher, "Tribute to Judge Betty Binns Fletcher," Washington Law Review, Vol. 25, No. 1 (February 2010); Nina Shapiro, "Judge Betty's Revenge," The Seattle Weekly, August 19, 2009, Seattle Weekly website accessed January 15, 2013 (http://www.seattleweekly.com/2009-08-19/news/judge-betty-s-revenge/full/); Scott Graham, "Ninth Circuit Judge Betty Fletcher, 1923-2012," The Recorder, Law.com website accessed January 15, 2013 (http://www.law.com/jsp/ca/PubArticleCA.jsp?id=1202576102870&Ninth_Circuit_Judge_Betty_Fletcher_19232012&slreturn=20130015145226); "John H. Binns, 84, Former Judge," The Seattle Times, February 29, 1980, p. B 5; Sarah Truax Albert, "Our Heritage From Cecil Rhodes," Ibid., July 31, 1955, p. 10; Maureen O'Hagen, "Obituary: Appeals Court Judge Betty Fletcher," Ibid., October 23, 2012; "Robert L. Fletcher," The Seattle Times, January 4, 2012 (http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/seattletimes/); John H. Binns Jr., emails to John Caldbick, January 16, 2013 and January 17, 2013, in possession of John Caldbick, Seattle, Washington; Thompson v. Calderon, 120 F.3d 1045 (1997); Thompson v. Calderon, 534 U.S. 538 (1998); "Firm Overview," K&L Gates LLP website accessed January 17, 2013 (http://www.klgates.com/about/).


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Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Betty Binns Fletcher (1923-2012), ca. 2009
Courtesy University of Washington School of Law


Peggy Binns, Betty Binns, Muriel Matsen (l-r), Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier, 1941
Courtesy Family of Robert and Betty Binns Fletcher


Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Betty Binns Fletcher (1923-2012), Bob Fletcher (1918-2011), Seattle, 2007
Courtesy University of Washington School of Law


Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Betty Binns Fletcher (1923-2012), Bob Fletcher (1918-2011), Robert L. Fletcher Scholarship recipient Jika Knight (center), Seattle, 2007
Courtesy University of Washington School of Law


Ninth Circuit Court Judge Betty Binns Fletcher (1923-2012), Bob Fletcher (1918-2011), rowing at family retreat, Parker Harbour, British Columbia, n.d.
Courtesy Family of Robert and Betty Binns Fletcher


Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Betty Binns Fletcher (1923-2012) working at family retreat, Parker Harbour, British Columbia, ca. 2011
Courtesy Family of Robert and Betty Binns Fletcher


 
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