UDC: “We Are Black History”: Judge Norma Holloway Johnson
UDC: “We Are Black History”
Judge Norma Holloway Johnson
First African-American Woman Appointed to the Federal Bench in DC
UDC alumna Judge Norma Holloway Johnson made history as the first African-American woman appointed to the federal bench in Washington, D.C. Known for her no-nonsense courtroom manner, she held ultimate authority over the direction of the 1998 investigation, led by the independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, into President Clinton’s relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.
Appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. She was a judge on the District of Columbia Superior Court from 1970 to 1980. She took over a seat vacated by George L. Hart, and was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 9, 1980. Judge Holloway received her commission on May 12th. She retired from the federal bench in 2003.
Born in Lake Charles, La., in 1932, she and her younger brother grew up poor in a wood-frame house without indoor plumbing. Her mother pushed her children to excel. Worried that her daughter would not get the education she needed in Lake Charles, her mother sent her to live with an aunt in Washington, DC. She graduated from Dunbar High School, and earned a bachelor’s degree from the District of Columbia Teachers College in 1955 (a predecessor to the University of the District of Columbia). She earned her J.D. degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1962.
Johnson was a trial attorney in the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice from 1963 to 1967, and later served as an assistant corporation counsel in Washington, DC from 1967 to 1970.
Among a series of pivotal decisions, Judge Johnson delivered a setback to President Clinton’s efforts to limit the scope of the investigation against him, ruling that he could not invoke executive privilege or lawyer-client privilege in trying to block prosecutors from questioning his aides. She also ruled that documents drafted by one of Ms. Lewinsky’s lawyers were not protected by lawyer-client privilege and had to be given to Starr.
The investigation led to the impeachment of President Clinton by the House of Representatives in December 1998, and his subsequent acquittal on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in a 21-day Senate trial.
Judge Johnson, who presided over a number of high-profile cases, could be particularly tough on those who wielded influence. She sentenced Joseph Waldholtz, the former husband of Representative Enid Greene, Republican of Utah, to 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to tax and election fraud in 1996.
That same year, she sentenced Representative Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat and long-time chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to 17 months in prison for mail fraud.
She also showed compassion on the bench. In 1998, a young woman appearing before Judge Johnson on a tax-evasion charge had apparently gotten into financial trouble because of a drug problem. She urged her to continue her treatment to be available for her four children.
Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, died Sept. 18, 2011 after a stroke at the age of 79.
“She was very conscientious as chief judge to make sure the independent counsel issues were promptly decided and fairly decided,” said Royce C. Lamberth, chief judge of the District’s federal court and a former colleague of Judge Johnson’s. “She got high marks from both sides for how she handled the legal issues presenting the investigation. You need a firm hand on the tiller in that case, and she was it.”