When President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit on Sept. 23, 1978, Theodore McMillian became the first African-American appointed to the federal bench in the seven states of that circuit. McMillian received an honorary doctor of humanities degree in 2004.
Since his appointment, McMillian has written more than 1,200 opinions, some of which paved the way for landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
McMillian began his professional career by founding the law firm Lynch and McMillian in 1949. From 1953-56, he served as assistant circuit attorney for the city of St. Louis.
In March 1956, Gov. Phil M. Donnelly appointed McMillian to the circuit court for the city of St. Louis, 22nd Judicial Circuit. With that appointment, McMillian became the first African-American appointed to the Missouri Circuit Court.
He and his colleague Noah Weinstein were the first Juvenile Court judges to allow blind people and single people to adopt children.
In 1972, Gov. Warren E. Hearnes appointed McMillian to the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri (Eastern Division), where he served until 1978. McMillian was the first African-American appointed to that court.
He is an honorary diplomate of the American Board of Trial Advocates and has been inducted into the National Bar Association Hall of Fame. Most recently, McMillian received the 2003 Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession.