July 1, 2019, marked a significant day for women in the Illinois judiciary. For the first time in the 200-year history of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the role of chief judge will be held by a woman.
Newly appointed Chief Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer succeeds Judge Ruben Castillo, who announced he was stepping down on International Women’s Day 2019 (March 8). Judge Castillo, who also broke ground as the state’s first Latino federal judge and its first Latino chief judge, will remain on the bench as an active district court judge.
With this appointment, Pallmeyer continues a trend of women serving in leadership roles in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Across the Seventh Circuit – which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin—six of the seven chief judges will soon be women.
In addition to Pallmeyer, Chief Judge Sara L. Darrow serves in the Central District of Illinois, Chief Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel in the Southern District of Illinois, Chief Judge Jane E. Magnus-Stinson in the Southern District of Indiana and Chief Judge Theresa Lazar Springmann in the Northern District of Indiana. Judge Pamela Pepper will succeed Chief Judge William C. Griesbach in the Eastern District of Wisconsin later this year.
Pallmeyer said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, “We have more women in the pipelines that have served for decades, and that makes a difference. We (women) can have every expectation that we can be leaders.”
President Bill Clinton nominated Pallmeyer to the federal bench in 1997. The following year, the U.S. Senate confirmed Pallmeyer and she received her commission.
During her time as a district judge, Pallmeyer presided over the corruption trial of former Gov. George Ryan, eventually sentencing him to six-and-a-half years in prison. Currently, Pallmeyer is presiding over the case of Teamster boss John Coli who is accused of attempted extortion.
Earlier in her career, Pallmeyer served as U.S. magistrate judge for the Northern District of Illinois and an administrative law judge for the Illinois Human Rights Commission. She also served as law clerk to Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Rosalie E. Wahl.
Pallmeyer received a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1979 and an undergraduate degree from Valparaiso University in Indiana in 1976.
“Having served as a lawyer for over 35 years, it’s gratifying to see so many qualified women serving in leadership roles in the judiciary,” said Jayne Reardon, Executive Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. “On behalf of the Commission, I congratulate Chief Judge Pallmeyer and look forward to working with her in the future.”
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 told the Chicago Tribune that she hopes to stay on the bench as chief judge until she turns 70.