January 2017

Senior Status: Judge Diana E. Murphy

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Diana E. Murphy assumed senior status on November 29, 2016. She plans to continue to render substantial judicial service as a senior judge. Judge Murphy is a true pioneer.


• First woman to be Chief Judge of a district court in the Eighth Circuit
• First woman to be a U.S. District Judge in Minnesota
• First woman to be Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota
• First woman appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
• First woman to chair the U.S. Sentencing Commission

The woman of so many significant firsts did not initially set out to be a judge. She started out as a student of history and ended up making history.
Judge Murphy was born Diana E. Kuske in 1934, in Faribault, Minnesota. She earned her Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, from the University of Minnesota in 1954 and then studied history on a Fulbright scholarship at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany and completed course work for a doctorate at the University of Minnesota in 1958. While working on her doctorate, she taught Modern European History at the University of Minnesota and met Joseph Murphy, a fellow teaching assistant. They married and had two sons, Michael and John.
As her sons grew older, she became active in community affairs and human rights issues, eventually enrolling in law school at the University of Minnesota. She received her Juris Doctor, magna cum laude, in 1974, and was Order of the Coif and editor of the Minnesota Law Review.
After law school, she entered private practice in the Minneapolis firm Lindquist & Vennum. In 1976, she was appointed to the Hennepin County Municipal Court and then to the Hennepin County District Court, where she served from 1978 to 1980.
When a new seat was created on the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, Murphy applied for the judgeship. She became the first woman to serve on that Court on February 20, 1980, by appointment of President Carter, and the first woman to serve as chief judge of a district court in the Eighth Circuit, a position she held from 1992 to 1994.
Then in 1994, President Clinton appointed Judge Murphy as the first woman to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. After 22 years of outstanding service, Judge Murphy is taking senior status at the age of 82.
Her ground-breaking appointments reach beyond the federal courts. In 1999, Judge Murphy was appointed the first woman to chair the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an office she held until 2004.
In the Eighth Circuit, she served on the Judicial Council as both a chief district judge and circuit judge, including chair of the Fairness Implementation Committee, and organized the Gender Fairness Task Force.
Judge Murphy’s leadership in national judicial administration and professional associations is considerable and far-reaching. Among such service, she has been a member of the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, American Law Institute, National Association of Women Judges, and ABA Standing Committees on Federal Judicial Improvements and on Judicial Selection, Tenure and Compensation. She has served on the board of the Federal Judicial Center and as president of the Federal Judges Association, board chair of the American Judicature Society, and chair of the ABA Ethics and Responsibility’s Judges’ Advisory Committee.
She is widely published in law publications and has received numerous honors and awards. Only a few such recognitions are named here: Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award, National Association of Women Judges Award for Leadership of Judges and Judicial Administration, International Women’s Forum “Woman Who Makes a Difference,” and the Judge Diana Murphy Legacy Award of the Infinity Project.