California Appoints First Gay, Black Judge To Its Supreme Court

“Justice Jenkins embodies the qualities sought in a Supreme Court candidate: collegiality, writing ability, scholarship and distinction in the legal profession coupled with an unparalleled breadth of experience.”

Martin Jenkins, a gay former prosecutor and judge, was nominated to the California Supreme Court in October by the state’s governor Gavin Newsom. While that was historic in its own right, Jenkins has gone on to make more history by becoming the first gay, Black man confirmed to any state Supreme Court in history.

The Commission on Judicial Appointments approved the 67-year-old justice in a unanimous 3-0 decision. The panel lauded Jenkins as having “brilliant intellect, first-class temperament, and boundless humanity,” according to the local CBS affiliate station.

“Anyone who knows me knows my identity as a gay man has been the greatest challenge of my life; it has not been easy,” Jenkins said during a press conference after his nomination in October. “But I want to say today to those young people who may be watching … that I am not here in spite of the struggle; I’m here because of the struggle.”

Jenkins’ confirmation makes him the first Black man to be appointed to California’s Supreme Court in 30 years, as well as only the fifth Black judge in the court’s history. He is one of 11 openly queer justices to serve on a state Supreme Court and only the second queer Black judge, after Washington’s G. Helen Whitener.

After a brief stint in the NFL, Jenkins pursued a career in law, serving on California’s First District Court of Appeal and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton made him a federal judge. He was considered “exceptionally well-qualified” by the State Bar of California — the highest possible recommendation from that group.

“Justice Jenkins embodies the qualities sought in a Supreme Court candidate: collegiality, writing ability, scholarship and distinction in the legal profession coupled with an unparalleled breadth of experience,” chair of the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, Aminder Singh, noted in a report about Jenkin’s qualifications.


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