Ninth Circuit Judge Got Her Start at Girl Scouts

Ninth Circuit Judge Got Her Start at Girl Scouts

Judge M. Margaret McKeown

I grew up in Wyoming, where I took a covered-wagon trip as a young Girl Scout. It was a combination hiking and camping experience, and it was fantastic to be in the middle of the wilderness and learn to be self-sufficient. That trip was unforgettable, but the experience that shaped my life the most was a Juliette Gordon Low World Friendship session in Washington, DC, in 1968. It was a two-week leadership summit for 25 high school Girl Scouts plus their international counterparts . . . and I was lucky enough to represent the United States.

While I was in DC, I contacted my senators. One of them, Clifford P. Hansen, invited me to see him while I was in the nation’s capital. When I got there, he started to explain how laws are made, and then he stopped and said, “Would you like to see the Senate dining room?” I nodded eagerly, and so off we went. I remember that we had hot fudge sundaes, and I asked him if I could work with him and he said, “No, you have to be in college.”

So a few years later, when I got to the University of Wyoming, I wrote him and kept writing him until he hired me.  I worked for him for three years. I went to Georgetown University Law Center in DC, and we stayed in touch over the years. There were not many women at law firms at the time, and I was appreciative of his counsel. Decades later in 1996—when I was a practicing lawyer and being nominated for a position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—Senator Hansen was retired, but he still called President Clinton to support me and told him that he had been my mentor going all the way back to when I was in high school.

Amazingly, Senator Hansen isn’t the only lifelong mentor who I met on that Girl Scout trip. I also met Frances Hesselbein, who at the time was the executive director of a Girl Scout council in Pennsylvania. (Later she became the CEO of Girl Scouts) We also stayed in touch and—many years later—she invited me to join the Girl Scouts of the USA National Board of Directors. I often think back to that trip because, to be honest, it changed everything about my life, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to make those connections through Girl Scouts.

—Judge M. Margaret McKeown
San Diego, California

Judge McKeown has served as a Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit since 1998. She was a White House Fellow, named by the National Law Journal as one of the “50 Most Influential Women Lawyers” in the country, and is the recipient of the American Bar Association’s John Marshall Award, which recognizes judges who have had a positive national impact on the justice system.