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From Little League To The Courtroom

Claire Kelly makes the big leagues as a judge 


As a child, Claire Kelly loved playing baseball with her brother’s baseball team; batting, catching and pitching with them at practices throughout the week.  But when games rolled around, the coach told her that girls weren’t allowed to play on the all-boys team. 


But in 1973, when she was around eight years old, she heard of Carolyn King, a 12 year old girl in Maryland who made national headlines when she sued Little League citing discrimination because they wouldn’t let her play on her local team. Little League dropped the no-girls rule and the effects made their way to Westbury, NY. 


 “It instantly changed my life,” Kelly said. “All of a sudden, they couldn’t tell me I couldn’t play baseball. Things were suddenly better.” 


Kelly’s come a long way from being one of the first girls on the Westbury Little League team. This past weekend, she was appointed as a judge on the U.S. Court of International Trade, a federal court that has nationwide jurisdiction regarding the importation of merchandise. 


Kelly got involved with international trade law right after graduating from Brooklyn Law School, saying she found the issues exciting and interesting. 


“It was international and important to our country,” Kelly says. “The court is really impressive and the people who work in this area are experts and very knowledgeable.” 


She practiced law for four years, before becoming a teacher at her alma mater. For 15 years, she taught international trade and business transactions and administrative law. She remained an active part of the Bar Association and one day, heard that someone had passed her name along to the White House as a possible candidate for a vacancy in the court. The Department of Justice contacted her, and she underwent a year of an investigative vetting process, was named a nominee, and then went through a Senate hearing where she was confirmed as a judge. 


“I never intentionally pursued being a judge and I didn’t really think about it, but when the opportunity presented itself, I realized I was actually qualified,” Kelly says. “It’s really exciting and I feel very fortunate that I have this chance to be of service.”


Kelly was always interested in law and current events were frequent discussion topics amongst her parents and two brothers. And the Little League lawsuit showed her how much of a difference the law really could have on people’s day to day lives. 


“I always had a real respect for the power of the law and how it could remedy unfair or unjust situations,” Kelly says.  


She grew up in Poet’s Corner and South Westbury, attending St. Brigid’s Grammar School and then Sacred Heart Academy. In addition to playing Little League, she was in Girl Scouts, band, played soccer and worked her way through high school and college at Wheatley Hills Tavern.  


Though she lives in Queens now, she often makes trips back to her hometown, attending the Saturday evening mass at St. Brigid’s or visiting Wheatley Hills Tavern. 


“I have a lot of fond memories of Westbury,” Kelly says. “It was a wonderful place to grow up.”