It’s no secret that President Obama loves Black women legal eagles. After all, First Lady Michelle Obama is a Harvard Law grad. Top advisor Valerie Jarrett earned her J.D at the University of Michigan. With Loretta Lynch poised to become the first Black female attorney general, the nation’s top prosecutor, taking the reins from a very able Eric Holder mind you, Obama is bringing new meaning to ‘laying down the law.’
But Lynch is far from his first historic gesture. Keeping the spirit of Constance Baker Motley, who became our country’s first Black female federal judge when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her back in 1966, alive, Obama has, with his appointments of these twelve women to key positions, created a new crop of Lady Justices. Hopefully when the first Black female Supreme Court Justice finally dons her robe, history will remember to credit Obama for his role in laying the critical groundwork.
Judge Arenda Wright Allen, Virginia
On May 11, 2011, Allen, a Philadelphia native who received her law degree from North Carolina Central University and served in the Navy, was unanimously confirmed, becoming the first Black female federal district court judge in the state of Virginia. She made history again on February 13, 2014 by overturning Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban for being unconstitutional.
Judge Irene Berger, West Virginia
Unanimously confirmed on October 27, 2009, Berger, who received her undergrad and law degree from West Virginia University, is the first Black female federal judge in her native state.
Judge Margo K. Brodie, New York
Born in Antigua, Brodie, who was raised in New York and has a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, is this country’s first Afro-Caribbean born federal judge. She was confirmed on February 27, 2012 by a vote of 86-2.
Judge Debra M. Brown, Mississippi
Mississippi-born, raised and educated, Brown, who graduated from Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) Law School, was unanimously confirmed November 4, 2013, becoming the state’s first Black female federal judge.
Judge Nannette Joilvette Brown, Louisiana
A Louisiana native who received her law degree from Tulane Law, Brown is the first Black female federal judge in state history. Prior to her unanimous Senate confirmation October 3, 2011, she served as the New Orleans city attorney under Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith, D.C.
Not long after the Baltimore native with a J.D. from Tulane University was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims by voice vote September 17, 2013, President Obama promoted her to Chief Judge on October 21, 2013, making her the first African American to hold the position. Thanks to Campbell-Smith, federal employees may seek damages from the government shutdown last year. Her fifteen-year term ends in 2028.
Judge Denise J. Casper, Massachusetts
Taking the seat of the late Reginald C. Lindsay, one of the state’s first Black federal judges, the East Patchogue, New York native and Harvard Law grad, unanimously confirmed by the senate December 17, 2010, is the first Black woman federal judge in the state. Interestingly, in 2013, she presided over notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger’s trial, sentencing him to two life terms plus five years and ordering he pay $19 million in restitution.
Judge Bernice B. Donald, Tennessee
Although a longtime federal judge, the Mississippi native with a J.D. from Memphis State University, is no stranger to firsts. Still, she made additional history when she was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, (which hears cases for Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio) September 6, 2011 by a 96-2 vote, making her the first Black female judge to hold the position.
Judge Benita Pearson, Ohio
Raised by a single mother of six, Pearson, a Cleveland native with a J.D. from Georgetown, fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a judge when she was confirmed on December 21, 2010 by a vote of 56-39, becoming the first Black woman federal district court judge in Ohio.
Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, Indiana
A Spelman grad (who counts her mom and sister among her alumna community) with a J.D. from Howard, Pratt, who was unanimously confirmed June 15, 2010, is not just the first Black female federal judge in state history; she is the first Black federal judge in state history.
Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, Rhode Island
Born in Anderson, South Carolina and raised in Greenville, South Carolina before graduating high school in Scarsdale, New York, Thompson, a Brown University grad, with a law degree from Boston University, is the first Black judge and just second woman of any race to serve on the Boston-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. She was unanimously confirmed March 17, 2010.
Judge Staci M. Yandle, Illinois
While she is not the first openly gay Black female federal judge, Yandle is the first Black judge, and only the second woman, to serve the Southern District of Illinois and the first openly gay judge in the Seventh Circuit. The confirmation was a controversial one for the Vanderbilt Law grad who squeaked by with a 52-44 vote.
-Rhonda Racha Penrice