Northwestern Law graduate becomes first Latino chief judge for Chicago federal court

Annie Bruce, Summer Reporter

Northwestern School of Law graduate Ruben Castillo was sworn in as the chief judge for the Northern District of Illinois earlier this month, becoming the first Hispanic to reach the position.

Castillo, 58, will preside over the third largest federal court district in the country. The post of chief judge is given to the member who has seniority in the district and is younger than 65.

“It is an honor, but it is a huge responsibility” Castillo said. “I love this court a great deal, and I want to make sure that it continues to operate in the way it has been operating.”

As chief judge, Castillo plans to ensure the court continues to run efficiently despite sequestration-related budget cuts. He also hopes to increase public outreach and encourage more diversity on the jury bench.

“It’s bad for the perception of fairness when we don’t have jurors that match the community that cases are tried in,” Castillo said.

While he went to Loyola University Chicago for his undergraduate education and studied at the NU School of Law’s legal clinic during the 1970s, Castillo said he was influenced by the Watergate Senate hearings and civil rights cases.

Castillo received his degree from the School of Law in 1979. The school’s legal clinic provided him with essential learning experiences, he said.

“I got to do cases with lawyers who are still there at the legal clinic, who I have a great deal of respect for,” Castillo said. “They were basically committed to bringing about social justice. That hardwired me in a way to want to do the same.”

President Bill Clinton appointed Castillo a federal judge in 1994.

Law Prof. Susan Provenzano was Castillo’s clerk from 1996 to 1998.

“You couldn’t have a better mentor,” Provenzano said. “He is someone who loved the law … as new lawyers, we need that kind of mentoring and we need that kind of inspiration, and he provided that for us.”

Provenzano attended Castillo’s swearing-in ceremony with his family members. His 88-year-old father helped him put on his robes and his son, another law school graduate, motioned for the oath to be administered at the ceremony.

“It was definitely an emotional experience that I’m still inhaling more than two weeks later,” Castillo said. “It still keeps me going.”

Summer reporter Annie Bruce can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at