The glass ceiling at the federal courthouse in Chicago is finally being broken after 200 years. U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer on Monday became the first female chief judge for the Northern District of Illinois.
Pallmeyer takes over the country’s third largest federal court district from Judge Ruben Castillo, who also broke barriers as the first Latino to serve as Chicago’s chief judge. He chose to announce his departure earlier this year on International Women’s Day – March 8 – to open the path for Pallmeyer after serving in that role for six years.
According the United States District Court, “Under federal law, a court’s chief judge vacancy is filled by the district judge with the most seniority, who has not yet reached age 65. The law allows the chief judge to serve up to seven years or until he/she reaches age 70, whichever comes first.”
Pallmeyer was born in Tokyo, got her undergraduate degree from Valparaiso University in 1976 and her got her law degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1979. She was nominated to the bench by former President Bill Clinton on July 31, 1997, confirmed by the Senate on Oct. 21, 1998 and sworn in the next day.
Pallmeyer is well-known for presiding over former Gov. George Ryan’s corruption trial. He was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison and served about 5 years. In Illinois’ seemingly unending tradition of convicting politicians for corruption, Ryan was one of four of the last nine governors who went to prison. (The others: Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, Dan Walker and Otto Kerner.)
Pallmeyer will lead the court as it celebrates its 200th anniversary, a natural fit as she has served as the chair of the Northern District of Illinois Court Historical Association. The court is marking the historic anniversary with a documentary and a number of events.
Pallmeyer joins us in discussion.