- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

Judge William B. Bryant, the first black chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, died Sunday night in his D.C. home. He was 94.

Judge Bryant was appointed to the U.S. District Court in August 1965 by President Johnson. He served as chief judge from 1977 to 1981 and continued to serve as a senior judge until his death.

Judge Bryant also was the first black assistant U.S. attorney for the District from 1951 to 1954.

“Judge Bryant was an inspiration to all who knew him,” Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan said yesterday. “Throughout his long and distinguished career, Judge Bryant sought to achieve equal justice, always careful to preserve the dignity of those who appeared before him. Judge Bryant was the soul of the court and will be greatly missed.”

Judge Bryant was known among lawyers and colleagues for his well-run courtroom.

“He demanded professionalism and courtesy as the norm in his courtroom,” said Kenneth L. Wainstein, U.S. attorney for the District. “He was very much a gentleman, and he expected all parties in his courtroom to act the same.”

From 1954 to 1965, Judge Bryant engaged in private practice. Among his many notable cases was Mallory v. United States in 1957, when the Supreme Court ruled that an arrested person must be brought promptly before a judicial officer.

A $110 million addition to the federal courthouse in the District will be named in Judge Bryant’s honor. Congress passed a bill earlier this month sponsored by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat, to name the annex in Judge Bryant’s honor, and President Bush signed it into law Friday.

“District residents revere Judge Bryant as a Washingtonian who spent his life overcoming racial odds to represent residents with such excellence that the bar and legal establishment itself had to admit him,” Mrs. Norton said.

“He was really a treasure, a piece of history. He was really a role model in many ways for lawyers of all types, all races and all backgrounds, and it is quite appropriate that his name will be on the courthouse,” Mr. Wainstein said. “He was a man who served his country in a variety of ways. I think his life is an inspiration for all of us.”

Judge Bryant served in the Army during World War II and was honorably discharged as a lieutenant colonel in 1947.

A longtime D.C. resident, he graduated from Howard University Law School in 1936 and was first in his class.

Judge Bryant was born in Alabama but moved to Washington soon after his first birthday. He graduated from the then-segregated D.C. Public Schools, Howard University and Howard University Law School.

He remained active at the law school, where he taught for more than 20 years, said Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert, who was one of Judge Bryant’s students.

“He was one of the great legal minds and pioneers of justice,” Mr. Swygert said. “He will be greatly missed.”

Judge Bryant’s wife of 60 years, Astaire, died in 1997.

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