Women’s History Month: Women of Justice. Sandra Day O’Connor. Judith N. Keep. Margaret Chase Smith. Diana E. Murphy.

Women of Justice: Judith N. Keep

This is part three of a four part series celebrating Women's History Month


Did you know that out of more than 165 named U.S. Courthouses across the country, there are only four that bear the name of a woman? In honor of Women’s History Month, take a moment to learn more about these women and the buildings that have been named for them. 

James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep U.S. Courthouse

San Diego, CA

Photo of Judge Judith N. Keep

The Honorable Judge Judith N. Keep was born in 1944 in Omaha, Nebraska. After high school, she moved to California to attend Scripps College in Claremont. In 1966, she received her B.A. degree in Humanities and Literature and moved to San Diego to teach English. She then enrolled at the University of San Diego School of Law. She received her J.D. degree in 1970, graduating summa cum laude and earning the title of valedictorian, at a time when less than 5 percent of lawyers were women. She was the first female staff attorney at Defenders, Inc., where she represented indigent criminal defendants in federal court. She served as an Assistant United States Attorney in 1976. She served as a judge of the Municipal Court in San Diego from 1976 to 1980.

Nominated by President Jimmy Carter, Judge Keep came onto the federal bench in 1980. She served as Chief District Judge of the Southern District from 1991 to 1998, and chaired the Conference of Chief District Judges in 1997. She was the first female federal judge in her district and its first female chief judge.

Judge Keep distinguished herself as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States (JCUS), the national policy-making body for the federal courts. She represented the Ninth Circuit judges at the JCUS from 1999-2002. She was appointed to the JCUS Defender Services Committee in 1998. She served on the committee and the federal bench until her death in 2004. Judge Keep died of breast cancer at age 60.

Completed in 2012, the new U.S. Courthouse in San Diego achieved a LEED® Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council and has won numerous prestigious design and construction awards. On December 18, 2014, President Obama approved naming of the San Diego U.S. Courthouse the James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse. A formal ceremony marking the new name of the courthouse was held on March 30, 2015.

Stone building sign in front of James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep U.S. Courthouse

Firsts for Judge Keep:

  • First woman to be a U.S. District Judge in the Southern District of California
  • First woman to be Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California
Last Reviewed: 2021-09-09