Eleventh Circuit Mourns Loss of Judge Phyllis Kravitch

The American legal community lost one of its pioneers yesterday, when the Honorable Phyllis Kravitch died after 38 years as a U.S. circuit judge.

Judge Kravitch was born in 1920 in Savannah, Georgia, and she received an LL.B. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1943. She returned to practice law in Savannah, where she became the first woman president of the Savannah Bar Association and later the first woman to be elected as a superior-court judge in the State of Georgia.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Judge Kravitch to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1979—making her only the third woman to serve as a federal circuit judge in the entire country—and she initially shared chambers with Judge Elbert Tuttle (a Sutherland founding partner and the namesake of the Eleventh Circuit’s Atlanta courthouse).

Judge Kravitch joined the Eleventh Circuit at its creation in 1981, and she remained an active judge on that court until the end of 1996, when she took senior status under 28 U.S.C. § 371. Despite her “retirement” from regular active service, she continued to support the Eleventh Circuit by working nearly full-time with a stable of busy assistants and law clerks for many years.

From the start of her professional education and throughout her career as a Jewish woman practicing law in the Deep South, Judge Kravitch often pushed boundaries in pursuit of equal and civil rights. Her accolades included recognition by the American Bar Association as a “woman trailblazer in the law,” by the Atlanta-area Daily Report as a “lifetime achiever” who “broke barriers,” and by the National Council of Jewish Women as a “woman who dared.”

To those who knew her, Judge Kravitch was also a generous storyteller with a sharp wit and a knack for good punchlines. Her commitments to fairness and justice were easily matched by her personal warmth and kindness. She will be remembered by an extensive network of family, friends, colleagues, and more than 100 former law clerks (including the author of this post).

Posted by Lee Peifer

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