Courtesy of Theodore McKee

View From the Bench

Theodore McKee grew up in the small town of Scottsville, New York, but he was keenly aware of the big picture. He knew early on that the law would be his way of making a difference in the world. “The Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of King and Malcolm X—there was a lot going on,” he says, “and it seemed to me that law was an avenue to have a constructive impact for change in this country and society.”
      Today, as a federal appeals court judge in Philadelphia, McKee is making a difference in human rights cases and labor disputes as well as criminal and civil law cases. A judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, McKee is only the fourth African American to serve on that bench. “The variety of issues we get is incredible,” he says. “We have human rights issues regarding immigration; criminal law cases; cases involving all aspects of civil law; and all kinds of labor cases—involving retirement benefits as well as whether an employer or labor union has engaged in an unfair labor practice. It provides a wealth of exposure to things I find very stimulating and challenging intellectually.”
      After graduating from SU’s College of Law, McKee spent two years with the prestigious Philadelphia law firm Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen. He then served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania before joining the Philadelphia city solicitor’s office as deputy for enforcement. Three years later he won a seat as a trial judge in the state’s Court of Common Pleas, and stayed there for more than 10 years until he was appointed to the federal court circuit in 1994. “I love reading and writing and that’s what I do all day long,” he says.
      After work, McKee continues his public service with community organizations. “I think it’s important for people in the legal profession to work toward bettering the lives of others,” he says. “Public service is the most important aspect of my profession.”

—Gary Pallassino


Photo Courtesy of Ruth Kagi

Washington state legislator Ruth Kagi never intended to go into politics. After earning an M.P.A. degree from the Maxwell School, she settled into a 15-year career in employment and training administration at the U.S. Department of Labor.
      From there Kagi became active in the League of Women Voters—which proved to be her first step toward a political career. “I lobbied for a ballot issue we called the Children’s Initiative, and I got to know my legislators quite well,” she says. “One of them encouraged me to run for office.”
      Kagi, who owns and manages a commercial real estate business, waited until her daughter was older before taking the plunge into politics, and was elected representative of Washington’s 32nd Legislative District (northwest King County) in 1998. “My work with the political process as a private citizen came together with my background in public administration,” Kagi says. “Being a legislator is the best way to improve public policy.”
      She set her priorities on improving children’s services and introduced a successful bill to establish residential services for homeless youth. “I sponsored another bill to consolidate our fragmented child-care delivery system,” Kagi says. “It didn’t pass, but the governor took the idea and is moving forward with consolidation.”
      This year, Kagi is introducing “A Fair Deal for Foster Kids” bill that will move the Department of Social and Health Services toward providing better services and greater accountability, and improve support for foster parents. “One of the ironies is that voters are approving revenue reductions at the same time they’re dictating an increase in expenditures,” she says.
      Kagi calls being a legislator the most rewarding job she’s ever had—aside from being a parent. “Just introducing a bill can help drive public policy,” she says. “The executive branch focuses more when a legislator picks up an issue and starts running with it.”

—Carol North Schmuckler

 

 


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