The Faces of Justice: Black State Supreme Court Judges

Welcome to The Faces of Justice report, a showcase of state court judges who bring professional and personal diversity to our courts. Each issue will hone in on and uplift different state court judges of various backgrounds. Volume 1: Black State Supreme Court Judges highlights the presence of Black state supreme court justices throughout the country. From spotlighting the historic first Black justices on each state supreme court and following the continued progress these courts have made, this report also addresses the nearly one-third of state supreme courts that have never had a Black justice.

The first Black justice to serve on any state supreme court was Jonathan Jasper Wright, appointed to the South Carolina Supreme Court in 1870. It would take nearly a century for the second Black state supreme court justice to be appointed, when Otis Smith was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1960. From there, it then took nearly another thirty years for the first Black woman to serve on a state supreme court with the appointment of Juanita Kidd Stout to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1988.

95% of all lawsuits in the United States are filed in state courts...

Accordingly, it is critical these courts ensure that a diverse and representative range of lived experiences is reflected on the bench. Securing diversity on our courts not only ensures that the experiences of the country are accurately reflected in the judicial processes, but also increases confidence in these institutions. This is essential in moving us towards a justice system that truly preserves the rights of all individuals.

Read the full report