Hon. Rubén Castillo
Chief Judge, Northern District of Illinois
Chief Judge Rubén Castillo (BA ’76) is the first Hispanic Chief Judge of the Northern District of Illinois. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Loyola University Chicago in 1976 and his law degree from Northwestern University School of Law in 1979, where he was a member of the editorial board of the law school’s Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
Chief Judge Castillo became involved in the criminal justice system before he graduated, and in 1978 he was appointed to be a deputy clerk for the local criminal courts, a position he maintained throughout law school.
Upon graduating from Northwestern, he joined Jenner & Block LLP as an associate attorney, becoming the first Hispanic lawyer at the firm. He worked at Jenner & Block for five years, litigating both civil and criminal matters before joining the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois in 1984. In 1988, he became the director and regional counsel for the Chicago office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). In 1991, he returned to private practice as a partner at the Chicago law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton nominated Chief Judge Castillo to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois as an Article III federal judge. He was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on May 6, 1994. In 1999, his many years of experience with the criminal justice system were called upon when he was appointed by President Clinton to be vice-chair of the United States Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch to establish sentencing policies and practices for the federal criminal justice system. He was the first Hispanic judge appointed to the Sentencing Commission. In 2004, President George W. Bush reappointed him to a final term on the Sentencing Commission, which ended in 2010. During his tenure there, he sought to reduce the penalties for crack cocaine and low-level drug offenders.
In 2012, his fellow judges in the Seventh Circuit designated him to serve as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States Courts, the policy-making body of the federal court system.
Chief Judge Castillo has also taught trial advocacy at Northwestern for over 20 years, from 1989 to the present. As a result of his work with students, he has received four teaching awards from Northwestern Law students, including the 2012 award for Outstanding Adjunct Professor.
Chief Judge Castillo advances the Jesuit mission through his work for social justice and advocacy for under-represented
voices in our court system.