Diane Wood

Diane Wood

: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: Linda Rux


* Was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a federal judge in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1995
* Ruled against legislation designed to ban the procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion in Illinois and Wisconsin

Diane Pamela Wood was born on July 4, 1950, in Plainfield, New Jersey and was raised in the nearby town of Westfield. She earned a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin in 1971, and a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law in 1975.

After completing her formal education, Wood clerked for Judge Irving Goldberg of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals from 1975-76, and for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun from 1976-77. In 1977-78 she worked for the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser, and from 1978-80 she ran a private legal practice in Washington, DC.

In 1980-81 Wood was an assistant professor of law at Georgetown University. From 1981-95 she was a faculty member at the University of Chicago Law School, where she also held the post of Associate Dean from 1989-92; she continues to teach at the law school on an occasional basis.

From 1985-87 Wood worked at the U.S. Justice Department as a special assistant to the Assistant Attorney General. From 1993-95 she worked in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

In March 1995 Wood was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as a federal judge in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases involving the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. At that time, she was a member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Chicago.

As a member of the Seventh Circuit Court, Wood has ruled against legislation designed to ban the procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion in Illinois and Wisconsin. In a case concerning an Indiana law mandating that women receive counseling and pertinent information prior to undergoing an abortion, Wood wrote a dissent expressing her rejection of such a policy, even though similar laws in other states have been upheld by the Supreme Court.

In 2001 Wood sat on the Seventh Circuit Court panel that adjudicated a case known as National Organization for Women v. Scheidler, where NOW and a number of abortion clinics sued anti-abortion activists under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO). Although RICO was designed chiefly to address the activities of organized crime, the plaintiffs in this case sought to apply RICO statutes to some illegal acts which pro-life demonstrators had allegedly perpetrated while protesting in the vicinity of abortion clinics. Ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, Wood wrote the panel’s opinion affirming the propriety of both a monetary penalty and a permanent nationwide injunction against the demonstrators. In 2003, however, the Supreme Court reversed this decision by an 8-1 margin, explaining that the defendants had not violated even one RICO statute.

But Wood and the Seventh Circuit Court ignored the Supreme Court ruling and proceeded to pursue the matter further. In a written opinion that cited four specific acts or threats of physical violence by the anti-abortion protesters in question, Wood issued an order remanding the case to the district court for further consideration. The Supreme Court subsequently overturned this ruling as well, by an 8-0 margin.

In 2006 the case of Christian Legal Society v. Walker came before Wood and the Seventh Circuit Court. At issue was a provision in the constitution of a Christian Legal Society (CLS) chapter at a law school. That provision stipulated that only people who shared the organization’s religious commitments—including its ban on extramarital sexual activity, whether heterosexual or homosexual—were eligible to serve as CLS leaders and voting members. But the dean of the law school took exception to this policy, charging that the restriction against active homosexuals in particular violated the school’s equal-opportunity policies. Thus he revoked CLS’s official status as a student organization, prompting CLS to sue the law school on grounds that it had violated the group’s constitutional rights.

During the oral arguments at trial, Judge Wood explicitly implied, without basis, that CLS considered homosexuals to be “less than fully human.”

Wood and the Seventh Circuit Court also presided over Doe v. City of Lafayette, a 2004 case that involved a convicted sex offender, dubbed “John Doe” by the court, with a long history of molesting (and exposing himself to) young boys. The city of Lafayette, Indiana banned Doe from its public parks, not only because of his past transgressions but also because Doe had candidly told his probation officer and his psychologist that when he watched children playing in those parks, he experienced “urges” to “possibly expose myself to them” or to have “some kind of sexual contact with the kids.” Doe’s psychologist, moreover, testified that she could not guarantee that her patient would not offend again.

But Doe filed suit against the city, claiming that the ban: (a) punished him for his private thoughts and thus violated his First Amendment rights; and (b) deprived him of his right “to enjoy and wander through a public park,” thereby violating his Fourteenth Amendment right to “equal protection of the laws.”

The district judge who initially presided over this case ruled that the city’s ban on Doe was appropriate and was in the best interests of its residents. The case was then appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court, where Wood sat on a three-judge panel that listened to the evidence. In a 2-1 split, this panel, with Wood voting in the majority, reversed the district court’s decision. Wood held that the policy banning Doe from the public parks indeed violated the man’s First Amendment rights.

Subsequently, a larger panel consisting of eleven judges from the same Seventh Circuit Court reheard the Doe case and, in an 8-3 ruling, reversed the decision of the three-judge panel. Wood, who was part of this eleven-judge panel as well, dissented from the majority opinion, sticking steadfastly to her belief that the defendant’s civil rights and liberties were being violated.

Over the course of her professional career, Wood has participated in a number of law-reform projects through the American Bar Association and the Brookings Institution Project on Civil Justice Reform. She also helped formulate the University of Chicago’s first policy on sexual harassment.

After Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced in May 2009 that he would soon retire, speculation arose that Wood ranked among President Barack Obama’s leading candidates to replace the outgoing Souter. The nomination, however, ultimately went to Sonia Sotomayor.

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