Why Justice Jenkins’ nomination to the California Supreme Court matters

Today is a day to rejoice. Governor Newsom appointed the Honorable Martin J. Jenkins to the Supreme Court of California. Justice Jenkins will be the first openly LGBTQI+ person and only the third African American to serve on the high court.

In July, Daniel H. Galindo, in his position as Diversity Equity & Inclusion Officer of the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, revised a letter on behalf of several LGBT bar associations to the Governor to include race along with status as LGBTQI+ in the criteria the Governor should consider in replacing retiring Justice Chin. Read the full letter here. Daniel H. Galindo, along with hundreds of other queer attorneys of color are applauding Governor Newsom’s decision to continue leading in the realm of LGBTQI+ equality.  According to the Assembly Judiciary Committee, as of 2019 judges in 21 of California’s 58 county superior courts were exclusively white; judges in 12 counties were exclusively male; and judges in 10 counties were exclusively white, heterosexual, able-bodied males.  This nomination to the Supreme Court encourages much needed diversification throughout our judiciary.

Justice Jenkins was born and raised in the Ingleside neighborhood of San Francisco. He is an alum of City College of San Francisco, Santa Clara University and the University of San Francisco School of Law. Justice Jenkins began his career as a law clerk in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, where he later served as a deputy district attorney. He also served as a prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1989 he was appointed to the Alameda County Municipal Court by Governor Deukmejian. In 1992, Governor Wilson appointed him to the Alameda County Superior Court, where he served until 1997. He then served as a United States District Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California having been appointed by President Clinton. In 2008, Judge Jenkins returned to state court following his appointment by Governor Schwarzenegger to the California Court of Appeal. In his retirement from the judiciary, Justice Jenkins has served in the Newsom administration as Judicial Appointments Secretary.

In his acceptance speech, Justice Jenkins remarked:

I want to say to some young person who may be out there watching today who is struggling with their identity. Anyone who knows me knows my identity has been as a gay man perhaps the greatest challenge of my life. And it has not been easy. But I want to say today to those young people who may be watching and those who may hear about what has transpired here: that I’m not here in spite of the struggle, I am here because of the struggle. It has deepened my character, afforded me sensibilities about the world, and about people who are not so willing to accept that people can love differently than they do, but nevertheless love sincerely, genuinely and affectively. I want these young people to know that living a life of authenticity is the greatest gift you can give yourself. And if you do that, you too will find yourself in a position where people see you and really see you and who you are, your authentic self. And in the extraordinary opportunity I’m being offered today, I thank you, Governor Newsom, for seeing me and I promise to do my best to dispatch the enormous responsibilities that are incumbent with this great office.

Justice Jenkins’ message accepting the nomination is reflective of what his appointment means for Californians and Americans generally. There is no place, including the highest levels of government, that is foreclosed to LGBTQI+ people.  All LGBTQI+ people deserve dignity and respect.