1/17/2006

UW School of Law Alumnus Jack E. Tanner (’55) loses battle with cancer

Senior District Judge and UW School of Law Alumnus Jack E. Tanner died late Tuesday night, January 10. He would have celebrated his 87th birthday on Jan. 28.

Tanner was the first African American federal judge in the Pacific Northwest and was active in the civil rights movement. He was nominated by President Jimmy Carter and appointed in 1978 as an Article III judge (later designated as a District Judge of the Western District of Washington after the roving judge position was abolished). Tanner served as an active judge until 1991, when he took senior status.

Born in Tacoma, Tanner remained a Puget Sound resident for most of his life. He served in the Army during World War II and, after his discharge from the military, worked as a longshoreman while attending the College of Puget Sound (now University of Puget Sound). He continued to work on the waterfront while attending UW School of Law and graduated with his LL.B. in 1955.

Judge Tanner had a distinguished judicial career and was the author of a number of significant opinions, particularly in the area of civil rights and civil liberties. These include a 1980 decision that conditions in Washington's Walla Walla Penitentiary were so deplorable as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and a 1983 ruling requiring comparable pay for women working in state government jobs. While the latter ruling was later reversed by the Ninth Circuit, it became known as the "comparable worth" case and helped draw national attention to wage discrimination against women.

Judge Tanner also was active in the NAACP serving in several high offices, including regional vice president and national delegate. In 1963, he and other national civil rights leaders conferred with President Kennedy at the White House. Judge Tanner also served on the NAACP’s National Board of Directors when Justice Thurgood Marshall was its General Counsel.

Judge Tanner is survived by his two daughters, Maryetta Greaves and Donnetta Gillum.