Trailblazer | Judge Farris

Judge Farris | July 13, 1969

On July 23, 2020 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lost a distinguished jurist and a revered colleague, Senior Circuit Judge Jerome Farris.  Farris was 90.  Judge Farris’ fellow judges described him as “an extraordinary judge and human being . . . a force of nature”; and “a compassionate human being . . .  a hundred years ahead of his time.” Of the loss, Circuit Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson said, “This is indeed a sad day for the court. As the first African-American judge to serve on this court, he left a legacy in which we can all take pride,” “His passing leaves a gigantic hole in the fabric of our court family,” she added.

Farris was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree with department honors in mathematics at Morehouse College in 1951. After graduation, he served in the Army Signal Corps and went on to earn a Master of Social Work degree at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) in 1955. Farris worked as a juvenile probation officer while earning his law degree. He received his Juris Doctor degree in 1958 from the University of Washington School of Law, where he was a member of the Law Review, a member of the Order of the Coif, and was elected president of the student body.

Upon graduation, he worked for the law firm of Weyer, Roderick, Schroeter, and Sterne before starting his own firm.  In 1969 Farris was appointed by Governor Dan Evans to the inaugural Washington State Court of Appeals, Division I, and was elected unanimously by his colleagues as the first presiding Chief Judge. He served on the court for ten years, until he was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Farris maintained chambers in Seattle, Washington, and assumed senior status on March 4, 1995. As his successor, Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown observed, “Jerry was an icon in the Pacific Northwest legal community.”

Judge Farris was actively involved in numerous civic organizations throughout his life.  He served as a Regent of the University of Washington. He was a trustee of the Seattle-King County Bar Association and former chairman of the Washington Council of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. He was a member of the University of Washington Law School Foundation, the Governor’s Conference on Library and Information Science, the Seattle Youth Commission, the King County Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board, and a delegate to the White House Conference on Children and Youth. He served on the boards of Seattle Urban League, Seattle Opportunities Industrialization Center, and United Way. Morehouse College awarded him an honorary degree in 1978.

Judge Farris served on the Executive Committee and Judicial Wellness Committee for the Ninth Circuit. He completed two terms of service on the United States Supreme Court Judicial Fellows Commission and one on the United States Judicial Conference Committee on International Judicial Relations. He is a past Chair of the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation and a member of the Senior Lawyers Division Council of the American Bar Association, a former secretary of the Executive Committee of the ABF Board of Directors and a former chairman of the Appellate Judges’ Conference of the ABA.

Judge Farris is survived by two daughters, Juli and Janelle, and a sister, Marian Farris Hatch. He was preceded in death by his wife, Jean Shy Farris.

 With gratitude to Claude Stern Esq, and to Judge Farris’ daughters Juli and Janelle, we are pleased to be able to share with you this recent oral history interview of Judge Farris.   

Judge Farris Oral History