Meet The First Openly Gay Black Justice Appointed to California’s Supreme Court


October 9, 2020

He’s breaking barriers!

California just made history, naming the first openly gay Black justice to the state’s Supreme Court, the Los Angeles Times reports.


Governor Gavin Newsom recently appointed Martin Jenkins as the new California Supreme Court Justice, making him the first openly gay Black justice to hold the title. Jenkins is a 66-year-old Democrat who got his start as a civil rights attorney at the Department of Justice under the Reagan administration. A former football player, Jenkins gave up his NFL contract to pursue law. He graduated from the San Francisco School of Law and took up a job as a prosecutor in the Alameda County district attorney’s office. 

As a civil rights lawyer, he handled police misconduct cases and cross burnings, eventually working as a trial attorney for the Pacific Bell Legal Department of San Francisco. He served on the Oakland Municipal Court from 1989-1992 before becoming an Alameda County Superior Court judge from 1992-1997. In 1997, former President Clinton appointed Jenkins to the San Francisco federal district court. He served until 2008 before being named to the Court of Appeals in 2008 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Despite his Democratic affiliations, Jenkins said most of his appointments came from Republican leaders. 


Last year, Jenkins left the Court of Appeals to work for Gov. Newsom as a judicial appointments secretary, working with the advisory committee to appoint 45 jurists with the hope of creating a more diverse California judiciary. For years, Jenkins has been considered a candidate for the state’s supreme court, but was passed over by former Gov. Jerry Brown for younger candidates who had less experience. Gov. Newsom’s appointment of Jenkins is a long-awaited dream for the San Francisco native and a massive step for the LGBTQIA+ and Black community.

Newsom spoke about the appointment, saying, “Justice Jenkins is widely respected among lawyers and jurists, active in his Oakland community and his faith, and is a decent man to his core. As a critical member of my senior leadership team, I’ve seen firsthand that Justice Jenkins possesses brilliance and humility in equal measure.”

Jenkins will fill the vacancy left by retired Justice Ming W. Chin. He is only the third Black man ever to serve on the state Supreme Court; the court is now made up of two Black justices, two Asian Americans, one Latino, one white woman and one white man. 


While being a Black man in law who is open about his sexuality has not been easy for Jenkins, he said he wants to encourage other young people to always live “a life of authenticity,” despite the obstacles they may face. 

“It has not been easy. I am not here in spite of the struggle. I am here because of the struggle. There is a significant responsibility that goes with being the first that I think is best dispatched in doing the work at the highest level I possibly can,” Jenkins said. 

Congratulations, Justice Jenkins!


Photo Courtesy of the Office of the Governor

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