Rebecca Pallmeyer is a federal judge in the U.S. District Court and the first woman to serve as Chief Judge in the court’s 200-year history. President Clinton nominated her to the federal bench in 1997. She was confirmed by the Senate the following year and has served as a judge for the Northern District Court of Illinois for more than 20 years. Judge Pallmeyer has presided over dozens of civil and criminal trials, including the public corruption trial of a former Illinois governor.
Judge Pallmeyer believes her education at Lutheran South and the teachers there prepared her for college and success. (She notes that, like many students, she had many family members who attended LHSS. All five of her siblings attended Lutheran High School, as did aunts, uncles, and cousins.) After graduating in 1972, Judge Pallmeyer won the National Merit Scholarship and attended Valparaiso University in Indiana. She majored in history and humanities was enrolled in Christ College-the Honors College, graduating in 1976. She met her husband, Dan McAdams, in Christ College, and the couple was married the year after graduation. Dan is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston.
Rebecca continued her education at the University of Chicago, where she earned her law degree in 1979. Following graduation, she served for one year as law clerk to Justice Rosalie Wahl of the Minnesota Supreme Court. In 1980, Rebecca and her husband moved to Chicago, where she began her legal career practicing with a commercial law firm in Chicago. In 1985, she became an Administrative Law Judge with the Illinois Human Rights Commission—a state agency that adjudicates civil rights claims (chiefly claims of employment discrimination and housing discrimination). In 1991, she was selected by federal district judges to serve as a U. S. Magistrate Judge. Then in 1998, she was confirmed by the Senate for a seat on the federal trial court in Chicago. In July 2019 she became Chief Judge of the U. S District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, one of the largest federal courts in the nation.
Judge Pallmeyer has won numerous awards and recognitions, including, most recently, the Chicago Diversity Scholarship Foundation’s Unity Award, the Chicago Inn of Court Joel M. Flaum Award, and the Chicago Phi Beta Kappa Association Distinguished Service Award. She is active in legal and judicial organizations, including the American Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association, and specialty bar groups. She is the Seventh Circuit’s district judge representative to the United States Judicial Conference, the governing body for the federal courts. She is a member of the Board of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and has served for many years on the National Council for Christ College, the honors college at Valparaiso University. She currently serves on the Advisory Council for the Salvation Army Residential Center, a facility that helps persons who have served criminal sentences return to society. Judge Pallmeyer and her husband have two grown daughters and are active members of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago, an ELCA congregation just steps from Wrigley Field.
Asked about her best memories of Lutheran South, Judge Pallmeyer recalled that she “loved being in chapel every day, but especially on the days when the brass quartet played, sometimes irreverently, as we all gathered for worship. I loved being among the faithful fans attending soccer games. I have vivid and happy memories of singing in ‘inner choir’ (later known, I think, as ‘Choraliers’), performing Christmas carols one year in the main hall of the terminal at Lindbergh Airport. All of my teachers were terrific. I remember Ms. Guenther patiently trying to get me to understand trigonometry. I remember Mr. Grundman, teaching us all to recite the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (still hammered into my head: ‘Reuben, Simeon, Levi, . . . ‘) I didn’t know how much I liked science until I took Chemistry with Mr. Pfund (who was like an uncle or father to so many of us) and Physics with Mr. Bauer. Mr. Pfund and Mr. Bauer drove to Chicago for the ceremony when I was sworn in as a district judge in 1998. What an honor!”
“Rick Barton, my teacher senior year, kick-started my interest in current events and American history. That interest continues to this day, and so has my friendship with Mr. Barton, whom I came to know years later as a fellow alum of Valparaiso University. And the high school musicals, directed by Henry J. Engelhardt, were a highlight of every year. I had a small but fun part in Brigadoon, and I still remember the bright green dress I wore for my big scene.”