BB&N is honored to recognize Amy Totenberg '69 with the 2019 Distinguished Alumna Award. A federal judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Amy was presented with the award on May 4 in Cambridge.
Amy Totenberg '69 - United States District Judge, Northern District of Georgia
Judge Amy Totenberg was born in New York to Melanie and Roman Totenberg, an internationally recognized concert violinist. Her family, including Amy’s sisters Nina Totenberg and Jill Totenberg '65, moved to Cambridge as Amy entered middle school, when her father joined the faculty at Boston University.
After graduating from Buckingham, Amy went to Harvard-Radcliffe College and Harvard Law School. While a college student she was inspired by the 1969 murder of labor leader Jock Yablonski to go work with Miners for Democracy and the United Mine Workers in Appalachia and Alabama to seek justice and bring attention to health and safety issues in the mining industry. She also interned at a law firm in Charleston, West Virginia and worked as legal assistant for Education/Instrucción in Roxbury, Massachusetts while in law school.
For more than four decades she has worked in both private practice and public service as an attorney, an arbitrator and mediator, a municipal court judge, a special master and monitor for federal courts, a scholar, a law professor at Emory University, and, since her nomination by President Barack Obama and appointment in 2011, a federal judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Her early work in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Alabama on labor issues, civil rights, and constitutional rights illustrated to her how much opportunity there was to make a difference in the South in the 1970’s, and when she graduated from law school, labor law firms were not hiring women. These factors prompted her to take a job in Atlanta at The Law Project, a public interest, pro bono legal cooperative. One of her earliest cases, which she won, was the largest employment race discrimination case brought against the State of Georgia.
She spent the next 17 years as a litigator, representing people from all walks of life in civil rights, labor, and constitutional rights cases before being named the first in-house general counsel for the City of Atlanta’s public school system during a major period of reform. Her efforts to protect the rights of students and the public education system not only served the needs of Atlanta’s children, they stretched beyond the city limits; in just one example, she represented 53 rural school districts in Georgia in a constitutional challenge to the adequacy of their funding.
She also spent a decade commuting to Baltimore and Washington DC to oversee major class action remedial orders involving the rights of students with disabilities. Judge Marvin Garbis, a federal judge in Maryland, said of her work, “There are thousands of children who have the most needs in Washington and Baltimore who are going to have a better chance with life because of what Amy Totenberg was able to do.”
Her tenure on the federal bench continues to present her with opportunities to address complex constitutional and societal issues and challenges. Most recently, in the wake of the 2018 elections and significant questions about the integrity of the American democratic voting process, Amy played a critical role in reviewing the vulnerabilities of electronic voting systems and voting procedures in Georgia and requiring that citizens be given an opportunity to challenge their removal from voting rolls.
The mother of four adult daughters, Emily, Clara, Sonya, and Naomi, Amy and husband Ralph Green live in Atlanta.
Criteria for the BB&N Distinguished Alumna/us Award
Nominees are proposed by members of the BB&N community in recognition of their:
- Exceptional professional accomplishments in the arts, sciences, law, medicine, industry, government, academia, and service to humanity
- Outstanding leadership and effectiveness in community involvement at the local, national, or global level for enhancing the quality of human existence and/or the environment
- Embodiment of the core values of BB&N and its motto - Honor, Scholarship, Kindness