Photo: Judge Melody Stewart
Justice Melody Stewart is making history in Ohio by becoming the first African American woman elected to the state’s supreme court. With Yvette McGee Brown being appointed to the court in 2010, Stewart is now the second Black woman to sit on the Ohio Supreme Court.
Before being sworn into her most recent position, Stewart served as a judge on Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals. Prior to that role, she worked as a professor of law at Cleveland Marshall.
Stewart, who was a music major at the University of Cincinnati and who has a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University’s Social Sciences school, says that the diversity of her background is what influences her actions in the court room.
“I consider myself a lifelong learner,” she tells WOSU radio in Ohio. “So, the more you learn about different things, I think the better informed your decisions are.”
According to the American Bar Association, just 36 percent of lawyers are women and only five percent are African American. That means that many people making decisions in today’s courtrooms look nothing like Stewart or the communities they serve. As a result of this lack of representation, Stewart says a trust gap often exist between the judicial system and minority communities.
“There currently is the appearance of impropriety at times, or lack of confidence, in the judicial system, if it appears that the system doesn’t treat certain groups fairly,” she says.
She adds that, “it’s not necessarily always tied to ethnic background, it’s applied to socioeconomic status, it’s applied to educational background, it can be applied to a lot of different things.”
As the second African American woman to serve in her position, Stewart says “it is probably important for a lot of students to see that, ‘That is a job I too can have one day.’”
Stewart was first elected to her role in November, and was officially sworn in last Thursday.