Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Diana J. Gribbon Motz 
MSA SC 3520-12028

Born in Washington, DC., July 15, 1943.  Attended Stone Ridge High School, Bethesda, Maryland; Vassar College, B.A., 1965; University of Virginia School of Law, J.D., 1968.  Admitted to Maryland Bar, 1969.

Diana Gribbon Motz (b. July 15, 1943) became familiar with the work of an attorney as a young girl watching her father, the celebrated litigator Daniel J. Gribbon, prepare for trials.1  Insights gained from that exposure originally deterred her from the profession; referring to the endless notes her father took, she concluded that that was “what lawyers did.”2  After graduating from the all-girls Stone Ridge High School in Bethesda, MD, Motz entered Vassar College and pursued a degree in history, graduating cum laude in 1965.3  Her career plans included the advertising business, until an agency to which she was applying required her to include a drawing in her portfolio.  Keenly aware of her deficiency at drawing, Motz withdrew her application and, lacking other direction, entered the University of Virginia Law School in 1965.4

Some women might have found it intimidating to be one of only two women in a law school class of 250, but not Diana Motz.  She would later recall, "After Vassar, where there were all these very ambitious, very outspoken women, this was a piece of cake.  These were laid-back, Southern gentlemen."5 She ended up marrying one of those laid-back, Southern gentlemen, J. Frederick Motz, of Maryland, in 1968.6  Although their political views were far from compatible ("I was a liberal Democrat, and Fred was certainly the most conservative person I knew,")7 their personalities were, and they will celebrate their 44th anniversary in 2012.8  They have two children, Catherine and Daniel.

After spending the summer of 1967 as an associate at Carter Ledyard & Milburn, Motz joined the Piper & Marbury law firm in 1968, and worked there for three years.  Motz recalled some of the challenges of being a female attorney at the time: " It's hard to strike the right demeanor as a woman.  You run the risk of not being taken seriously . . . or being regarded as a battle-ax."9   In 1972, she was appointed an Assistant Attorney General in the Maryland Attorney General's Office, a position she would hold until 1986.10  It was as Chief Litigator in that office that Motz emerged in the national spotlight, garnering attention  in the 1981 case against the former governor of Maryland, Spiro T. Agnew.  Agnew was charged with accepting kickbacks and bribes from consulting engineers who were awarded state contracts for highway construction projects.11 Motz represented the state of Maryland in seeking restitution from Agnew, saying "It is clear that in abusing his high office, defendant Agnew seriously injured the people of Maryland."  The money he recieved led to "higher contract prices, or inferior work or the loss of a best bargain--or all of these these," for Marylanders.12  Motz won the case for the state, and had a check from Agnew for over $268,000 placed on her desk.  Her advice to the court was to "send a message to public officials and ordinary citizens everywhere that public officials are not only elected by the people but...are answerable to the people."13

In 1986, Motz re-joined the private sector, becoming a partner in the Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman firm in Baltimore.  In 1990, she was appointed to the Federal Courts Study Committee, charged with making "recommendations as to the future and jurisdiction of the federal courts."14  Motz valued her role on this committee, calling her participation "my most significant non-litigation related experience as a practicing lawyer."15 "I not only learned a great deal about the problems, workings, and talents of the federal courts," Motz wrote, "but I also learned much about the diversity of our country and the challenges that diversity creates for the federal courts."16 

Motz left private practice again upon appointment as an associate judge in the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in 1991.  While on the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, one case that appeared before the bench was Brown v. Ashton, involving a curfew for juveniles in the city of Frederick, MD.  The curfew mandated that children under the age of eighteen were not allowed to be outside between 11:00pm and 6:00am on weekdays and 12:00am to 6:00am on weedends, unless under the direct supervision of a parent or "bona fide" organization.17  In Brown v. Ashton, Motz held that the curfew infringed upon the "fundamental rights of those juveniles," and the curfew was removed.  She explained her thinking on the case at her Confirmation Hearings, that "once you start talking about fundamental rights, when you put restrictions on those rights, you have a very difficult burden in justifying them."18  This case illustrates Motz’s interest in constitutional issues, as well as her commitment to the Constitution.

In 1994, Diana Motz was surprised to receive a call from White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, who informed her that President Clinton had nominated Motz to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  At first, she thought Nussbaum had reached the wrong Motz--perhaps the attorney who had recieved the nomination was really her husband. Reassured that was not the case, Motz became the first woman from the state of Maryland to hold such a high ranking judicial postion..19

While serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Motz has dealt with controversial issues, including the admittance of women to military institutions.  In 1995, a three member panel ruled 2-1 against rehearing a federal lawsuit against the male-only admission policy of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI).  Motz held the dissenting opinion.  VMI planned to open the Virginia Women's Institute of Leadership at Mary Baldwin College as an alternative version of the Institute for women.20  Motz cited Brown v. BOE in her dissent.  She wrote that the Supreme Court already decided that "separate but equal" was not constitutional in regard to the education of African Americans.  Now, she wrote, "a panel of this court has now held that a state can constitutionally provide a separate--and concededly not even equal--education to women."21 Motz argued that a VMI education is worth more than just the course work and military training--the reputation and connections are just as valuable, and would be denied to the women at the separate institute.22  In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court validated Motz’s position and found it unconstitutional for VMI to exclude women.

Motz found herself dissenting in another notable case, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.  This 2003 case concerned the Fifth Amendment right to due process and the Sixth Amendment right to an attorney.  Yesar Esam Hamdi, an American citizen, was apprehended in Afghanistan and termed an "enemy combatant" by President George W.  Bush.  He was jailed in a Navy brig and not allowed to meet with a lawyer.23  Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson IIII, in writing the majority opinion, said that "the courtroom is a poor vantage point for the breadth of comprehension that is required to conduct a military campaign on foreign soil."24  Motz, concerned about the constitutional rights guaranteed to all citizens, disagreed: "The panel's decision marks the first time in our history that a federal court has approved the elimination of protections afforded a citizen by the Constitution solely on the basis of the Executive's designation of that citizen as an enemy combatant."25 Again, the U.S. Supreme Court would validate Motz’s view, reversing the lower court’s decision in 2004.  

More recently, Judge Motz has handled cases regarding the constitutionality of President Obama's health care proposals.  When both Liberty University and Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli challenged the health care laws, the court ruled against both of them.  This time, Motz was in the majority opinion.  Since the lawsuits were filed prior to the start of the enforcement of the penalty, Motz called attention to the Tax Anti-Injunction Act of 1867, which prevents judges from deciding lawsuits which challenge a tax before the tax has been collected.26  She wrote: "Because this suit constitutes a pre-enforcement action seeking to restrain the assessment of a tax, the Anti-Injunction Act strips us of jurisdiction."27  

Courts are not in the business of creating law, according to Motz.  When asked to give her opinion on the controversial rise of judicial activism (rulings based on considerations other than existing law) Motz asserted: "It is not the job of the courts to formulate new law.  The legislature is to legislate; the judiciary is, when asked, to interpret the legislation and, very importantly, to determine if it is constitutional... It has generally worked well for 200 years; it should be followed."28  That strict adherence to the Constitution is what has garnered Motz so much respect and admiration in the legal society.  

Motz's work is not confined to the courtroom.  She has been an active volunteer in the Baltimore community, serving on the boards of the YWCA of Greater Baltimore, the Junior League of Baltimore, and the Union Memorial Hospital.  While on the Board of Directors of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, she worked on the possibility of centralizing mental institutions in Maryland.  Motz moves easily from her role in boardrooms to a role as a volunteer; several hours a week Motz plays with sick or abused children at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital.29  She also serves as a mentor for young people, allowing Girl Scouts to shadow her while on the bench.30

Diana Motz sees the most significant issue facing the legal community today to be "the pull between civil rights, personal liberty rights, and national security interest."31  Her legal career has offered her the opportunity, and the challenge, to consider these often competing interests.  Through her work on the bench, her devotion to the Constitution, her high standards of integrity, and her service to individuals in the community, Diana Motz offers standards of commitment and compassion that serve as an example to all citizens of Maryland.


Endnotes:

1. 2012 Maryland Women's Hall of Fame Nomination Form. Return to text.
2. "Diana Motz joins federal bench today," The Baltimore Sun, 22 July 1994. Return to text.
3. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Confirmation Hearings on Federal Appointments: Hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess., 25 March; 21, 22, 29 
April; 12, 25 May, 1994, 923-1003. Return to text.
4. "Diana Motz joins federal bench today," The Baltimore Sun, 22 July 1994. Return to text.
5. Ibid. Return to text.
6. Ibid. Return to text.
7. Ibid. Return to text.
8. "Ms. Diana J. Gribbon Is Wed To John Motz In Washington," New York Times, 20 September 1968. Return to text.
9. "Partners in Life, Colleagues on the Bench," The Baltimore Sun, 1 September 1991. Return to text.
10.Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Confirmation Hearings on Federal Appointments: Hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess., 25 March; 21, 22, 29 
April; 12, 25 May, 1994, 923-1003. Return to text.
11. "Agnew Bribery Trial Starts," Herald-Zeitung, 22 April 1981. Return to text.
12. Ibid. Return to text.
13. "President Names Ten Federal Judges," Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, 27 January 1994. Return to text.
14. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Confirmation Hearings on Federal Appointments: Hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess., 25 March; 21, 22, 29 
April; 12, 25 May, 1994, 923-1003. Return to text.
15. Ibid. Return to text.
16. Ibid. Return to text.
17. "Vanessa Brown, et al. v. Richard Ashton, et al.," Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, 9 July 1992.
18. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Confirmation Hearings on Federal Appointments: Hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess., 25 March; 21, 22, 29 
April; 12, 25 May, 1994, 923-1003. Return to text.
19."Diana Motz joins federal bench today," The Baltimore Sun, 22 July 1994. Return to text.
20. "Appeals Court Denies Rehearing Of VMI Policy Barring Women," Daily News-Record, 29 April 1995. Return to text.
21. Ibid. Return to text.
22. Ibid. Return to text.
23. "Jailing of Hamdi Upheld As Rehearing is Denied," The Washington Post, 10 July 2003. Return to text.
24. Ibid. Return to text.
25. Ibid. Return to text.
26. "VA Court Rejects Challenges to Obama's health care law; Federal panel says it can't rule until penalty has been levied," The Baltimore Sun, 9 September 2011. Return to text.
27. Ibid. Return to text.
28. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Confirmation Hearings on Federal Appointments: Hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess., 25 March; 21, 22, 29 
April; 12, 25 May, 1994, 923-1003. Return to text.
29. Ibid. Return to text.
30. "Central Maryland Girl Scouts honor judge and U.S. Attorney," The Baltimore Sun, 6 July 1997. Return to text.
31. "Fourth Circuit Judges Speak About Appellate Court Judging," UVA Lawyer, Fall 2007. Return to text.

Biography written by 2012 summer intern Anne Powell.

Return to Diana J. Gribbon Motz's introductory page

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