Posted by on July 01, 2014 in Blog

Rosemary Barkett, the first female judge and the first Arab American judge to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, was born in Mexico in 1939 to Syrian immigrants, Assad and Mariam Barakat. Her rich and diverse background based on a strong family work ethic, has lead Barkett to many incredible “firsts” in her career.

In 1945, Rosemary’s parents moved the family of seven children to Miami, Florida. At the age of six, and without knowing a word of English, Rosemary began school in Miami. Her interest in public service began at a young age when she entered a Catholic convent, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and became a nun. She served there for eight years and taught both elementary and junior high school students. Believing that there were other ways for her to serve those in need, Barkett left the convent to pursue her academic goals, eventually earning her J.D. from the University Of Florida College of Law, where she was the first woman to be awarded the J. Hillis Miller Memorial Award as the outstanding senior graduate.

After graduating from law school, Barkett worked as a trial lawyer in Florida for eight years. In 1979, she was appointed as a state circuit court judge in the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida. She was promoted to the Fourth District Court of Appeals in 1984, and in 1985, Governor Bob Graham appointed her to the Supreme Court, making history as the Court’s first female justice. Governor Graham announced that he had selected Barkett over other candidates because she had a “record of humanitarian service, legal talent, professionalism and judicial demeanor.” In 1992, she was chosen by her colleagues to become the first woman Chief Justice of the state’s highest court. Barkett’s supporters have praised her exemplary service on the bench and the many admirable qualities for which she is known, including leadership, fairness, firmness, and a strong sense of civility. In 1994, President Bill Clinton named her to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rosemary was selected on October 1st, 2013 by the U.S. State Department to join the Iran—United States Claims Tribunal located in The Hague, Netherlands. Rosemary is one of three American judges in the tribunal where her primary job is to resolve claims Iran has made against the United States.

Barkett is extraordinarily active on and off the bench. She has served on several commissions and associations addressing child welfare matters, court management, the criminal justice system, family law, legal education, and the role of women in the justice system. She has taught seminars on Constitutionalism and Human Rights at Columbia Law School and has lectured in Kuwait, Dubai, Qatar, Damascus, Turkey, Algeria, China, Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, and Russia.

For her commitment to justice, Judge Barkett has received a multitude of prestigious honors and awards from national and state professional, civic, and charitable groups. The recipient of seven honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning, Judge Barkett has been named by Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit Historical Society as a 2008 Legal Legend. She has also received The Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award and the Latin Business and Professional Women Lifetime Achievement Award, in addition to being inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame. Most recently, Barkett received the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award on January 30, 2014.

Each year, two awards are given in honor of Judge Barkett’s contributions: the Rosemary Barkett Outstanding Achievement Award given to an outstanding lawyer by the Florida Association of Women Lawyers and The Rosemary Barkett Award which is presented by the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers to a person who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to equal justice under law. In 2010, Florida International University, the Third District Court of Appeal, and the American Inns of Court Program founded The Rosemary Barkett Appellate Inn of Court, designed to improve the skills, professionalism and ethics of the bench and bar. Barkett was the recipient of the 2010 Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service at the Arab American Institute’s Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards Gala.

An exemplary woman of many firsts, Judge Barkett credits her remarkable career to her diverse upbringing. “It has been a huge advantage to have come from a tri-cultural background,” Barkett told AAI. “It gives you a global perspective on shared values and an appreciation of the world as a whole.” 


Read more stories about Arab immigrants and their descendants on the "Together We Came" main page.