Trailblazing federal appeals court judge William A. Norris, who wrote in 1988 that Army regulations barring gays from service was unconstitutional, has died at the age of 89.
Norris was nominated to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 and retired from the bench in 1997, with a legacy of 400 opinions.
In 1988, Norris wrote the opinion in Watkins v. U.S. Army, challenging the ban on gays in the military.
Judge Raymond Fisher, of the 9th Circuit, called the Watkins opinion “visionary,” noting that Judge Norris’ ruling was ultimately vindicated 27 years later by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015.
In 1991, Norris wrote the opinion rejecting libel claims by entertainer Wayne Newton that he was defamed by a network TV news report claiming he had alleged ties to Mafia figures, Newton v. NBC.
Norris, who was a journalist early in his career, ruled in a 1989 First Amendment case that struck down a portion of California election law that prohibited candidate endorsements by political parties.
In 1974, Norris ran for California attorney general but lost to Republican incumbent, Evelle Younger.
While in private practice, Norris was appointed by Gov. Edmund “Pat” Brown to serve of the state Board of Education from 1961 to 1966.
Norris was born in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania and worked as a reporter for the Turtle Creek Independent, a weekly newspaper run by his father. He served in the Navy during from 1945-47.
He received his law degree from Stanford Law School and an undergraduate degree from Princeton University.
Norris recently completed an autobiography, “Liberal Opinions: My Life in the Stream of History.”
“He had a remarkable career as a lawyer and civic and political activist who worked tirelessly for civil rights and liberties,” said Judge Fisher. “As a judge, he gave up those activities but not his concern for justice and the rule of law,” he said.