Unwavering Justice

Betty Binns Fletcher, '43

January/February 2013

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Unwavering Justice

When Betty Binns Fletcher graduated from law school, she faced the same problem many recent law school grads have today: She couldn't find a job. But in 1956, it wasn't due to competition; it was because she was a woman. Fletcher eventually secured a position with a Seattle law firm, and went on to become one of the first female partners at a major U.S. firm. In 1979 she became the second woman appointed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and served 33 years on the bench.

Fletcher, '43, died October 22 in Seattle following a brief hospital stay. She was 89.

Elizabeth Binns began attending Stanford when she was 16. With many law students in the military fighting in World War II, women and undergraduates were allowed to take law classes. She married Robert L. Fletcher, '39, JD '47, during the war. The couple then moved to Seattle where he taught law at the University of Washington and she went to law school, graduating first in her class from UW.

Considered one of the most liberal federal appeals court judges, Fletcher championed causes such as fighting workplace discrimination, protecting the environment and overturning the death penalty. When her son, William A. Fletcher, was nominated to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton in 1995, conservatives on the Judiciary Committee insisted that because of an obscure 1911 anti-nepotism law, a mother and son could not serve on the same court. (This despite the fact that brothers Morris and Richard Arnold previously served together on the 8th Circuit.)

Her Honor Betty Fletcher agreed to resign as an active judge and took senior, or semi-retired status. In a 2010 tribute to his mother, William Fletcher said, "Mom has now been on senior status for 10 years. For all of those years, she has carried a full load of argued cases, she has done capital cases, she has traveled to hear cases in other cities, and she has done screenings and motions. . . . And, as if doing her job in the 9th Circuit is not enough, she has sat by designation on other circuits, taking her sense of justice to other parts of the country that may be in need of same."

Fletcher was preceded in death by her husband of 69 years in 2011. She is survived by her children, Susan French, '64, Kathy Fletcher, William and Paul; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Julie Muller Mitchell, '79, is a writer in San Francisco.

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