On This Day in 2001: A Judge Meets an Artist

On July 5, 2001, Judge Deborah Anne Batts (HLS ’72) sat for the artist Simmie Knox, who painted this portrait. It was given to the HLS Library in 2001 by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Alumni(ae) Committee of the Harvard Law School Association, and is on view in Pound Hall.

Three-quarter length seated figure, Judge Deborah Anne Batts, in robes of office, turned to right, looking forward, holding pen in left hand and paper in right hand. Signed bottom left in black: Simmie Knox / 2001. The canvas is rectangular and surrounded by a carved wood frame. HOLLIS no. 8000983236.

Deborah Anne Batts (1947-2020) was sworn in as a Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York during Pride Week in 1994, becoming the nation’s first Black openly LGBTQ federal judge. She presided over important cases, including a civil trial about the Central Park Five, youths who were wrongly convicted in the 1989 beating and rape of jogger Trisha Meili in Central Park. According to Judge Batts’s close friend, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Batts “lived her life openly and earnestly, with fortitude and conviction.”

Simmie Knox (b.1935) was the first Black artist to receive a presidential portrait commission. He painted President Bill Clinton’s and First Lady Hillary Clinton’s portraits, as well as portraits of U.S. Supreme Court justices, political figures, and celebrities. His works are on view in several public collections, including the U.S. Senate.

We are honored to have this majestic yet warm portrait of Judge Deborah Anne Batts in our collection. Next time you visit Pound Hall, check it out for yourself!

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