The Honorable Thelton E. Henderson is a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. He was appointed to the federal bench in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter and championed transformative justice for nearly four decades. During his tenure, Judge Henderson became known for his willingness and ability to protect vulnerable populations.
In 1987, he became the nation's first judge to declare that gay people, like racial minorities, are entitled to equal protection and due process of law under the United States Constitution. A steward of the environment, he is celebrated around the world for saving dolphins from the tuna industry, and he is credited with making the San Francisco Bay Area meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Judge Henderson has steadily vindicated the rights of women and people of color. Though his decision was later reversed, he ruled to strike down Proposition 209, California’s 1996 voter-approved ban on public affirmative action programs. Among his many awards are the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award, the State Bar of California’s Bernard E. Witkin Medal, the Pearlstein Civil Rights Award from the Anti-Defamation League, the Distinguished Service Award from the National Bar Association, the Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Award for Professionalism and Ethics from the American Inns of Court, and the Judge Learned Hand Award from the American Jewish Committee. In August 2017, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California dedicated the Ceremonial Courtroom in the San Francisco Courthouse to Judge Henderson. Judge Henderson’s last day on the bench was Friday, August 11, 2017. He is now a Distinguished Visitor at Berkeley Law.