Reena Raggi was appointed a judge of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 2002. At the time of her appointment, she was a judge of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York, where she had served for 15 years.
Raggi was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, the eldest of three sisters. Her father, Edward Raggi, served in the United States Army during World War II and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star in the final Allied offensive in Europe. He earned his college degree
magna cum laude at night while working full time to support his young family. For most of his adult life, he was employed as an industrial engineer. Judge Raggi credits her father with giving his daughters a love of language and with encouraging them to pursue “professions” to ensure their independence.
Raggi’s mother, Santina (“Tina”) Navarchi Raggi, was born in Terrinca, Italy, and emigrated to the United States in 1930 at age seven with her brother and deaf mother. She was the first member of her family to graduate high school, by which time she had thoroughly mastered English grammar and spoke the language without a trace of accent even though only Italian was spoken at home. She won a scholarship to secretarial school and went on to work as executive secretary to the heads of two international companies. Judge Raggi credits her mother with giving her daughters faith, ambition, and a hunger for advanced education. All three sisters would earn professional graduate degrees.
Judge Raggi was educated through twelfth grade in Catholic schools. She earned a B.A. degree with honors from Wellesley College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. At Wellesley, she studied early American legal history with one of the leaders in that field, Kathryn Preyer. Raggi graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School and clerked for the Judge Thomas E. Fairchild, then chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Together with her fellow clerks, Judge Raggi helped institute the Fairchild Lecture at the University of Wisconsin Law School and, in 2004, was privileged to deliver the fifteenth such lecture, entitled “In Praise of District Courts.”
In 1979, after two years as an associate at a major New York firm, Raggi became an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of New York. She was the first assistant hired by United States Attorney (now District Judge) Edward Korman, who would become her life-long mentor. In her seven-year tenure as an Assistant United States Attorney, Judge Raggi would head the office’s Narcotic Unit and its Special Prosecutions Unit, the latter focusing on official corruption cases. Fluent in Italian, she frequently worked on collaborative investigations with Italian authorities, including the successful extradition to Milan of financier Michele Sindona. In 1986, the Eastern District Board of Judges unanimously appointed Judge Raggi as the district’s interim United States Attorney, making her the first woman to head a federal prosecutor’s office in New York State. Judge Raggi credits the Board of Judges’ action with prompting another that followed later that same year, soon after her return to private practice: her nomination by President Ronald Reagan as a district judge for the Eastern District of New York. She was then 35, one of the youngest persons nominated to any federal judgeship, and the first woman to serve on the Eastern District bench. Fifteen years later, President George W. Bush nominated Judge Raggi to fill the Second Circuit seat vacated when Amalya Kearse, a fellow Wellesley alumna, took senior status.
During her judicial tenure, Judge Raggi has served as a member of the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Resources and the Judicial Conference Committee on the Federal Rules of Procedure. From 2011 to 2015, she chaired the Conference’s Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure.
In 2007, the Federal Bar Council awarded Judge Raggi its Learned Hand Medal for Excellence in Federal Jurisprudence. In accepting the Medal, she spoke on the importance of jury trials to the administration of justice. Judge Raggi has also received the New York State Bar Association’s Haig Award for Distinguished Public Service, Wellesley’s Alumnae Achievement Award, and an honorary Juris Doctor degree from Brooklyn Law School, where she taught trial practice and served on the Board of Trustees. From 2008 to the present, Judge Raggi has taught Federal Trial and Appellate Advocacy at New York University School of Law. She also serves on the Board of the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation, which awards grants to scholars working in the field of legal history.
Judge Raggi was married for 24 years to David W. Denton, a distinguished New York attorney who died prematurely in 2007 from brain cancer. Early in his career, Denton had served for 15 years as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he rose to the positions of chief of the Criminal Division and executive United States Attorney. Judge Raggi and Mr. Denton have one son, David W. Denton, Jr., who followed in his mother’s footsteps by attending Harvard Law School and is following in his father’s footsteps as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York.