On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom nominated former U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins to the California Supreme Court.
Newsom nominates Judge Martin Jenkins
Jenkins, would become the first openly gay and only the third African-American to become an Associate Justice if confirmed. The Governor has been searching for a replacement for over a month following the retirement of Justice Ming Chin at the end of August.
Governor @GavinNewsom announced the nomination of Justice Martin Jenkins (Ret.) for Associate Justice of the CA Supreme Court.
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) October 5, 2020
Jenkins, a lifelong Bay area native, began his career with a brief stint in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks after playing at Santa Clara University. However he soon went back to college, getting a law degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law. During the 1980’s, he worked in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor, the U.S. Department of Justice as a civil rights lawyer, and then in the private sector with Pacific Bell as a trial attorney.
However, in 1989, then Governor George Deukmejian installed him as a judge in the Alameda County Municipal Court, with then Governor Pete Wilson moving him up to the County’s Superior court in 1992. Former President Clinton subsequently elevated him to the U.S. District Court five years later, with Jenkins holding the position until 2008.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger then chose him for the state Court of Appeal, with Jenkins staying on as a judge until early last year. Since then, Jenkins has been Newsom’s personal judicial appointments secretary.
The first openly gay justice, the first black justice since 1991
“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,” said the Governor during his announcement on Monday. “As a critical member of my senior leadership team, I’ve seen firsthand that Justice Jenkins possesses brilliance and humility in equal measure. The people of California could not ask for a better jurist or kinder person to take on this important responsibility.”
Jenkins himself said he was honored by the Governor’s decision and accepted the nomination.
“On a day like today, ” said Jenkins as he took off his face mask in front of the press,” the only emotion I can think of to express is one of sincere gratitude to the Governor. On behalf of me and my family, thank you for the honor you accord to our family today.”
“It has been 29 years since a Black man has sat on the state Supreme Court, and I would not be here today without them. Thanks for all of those who blazed the trail. I can’t imagine that my parents could have imagined that I would stand in this place today, or that they could see that I would be a nominee to the California Supreme Court.”
“Anyone who knows me knows my identity as a gay man has perhaps been the greatest challenge of my life. I’m 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.”
A well-respected judge, a left-center lean
Jenkins is seen as a generally left-center leaning judge. While he has been the judge behind many civil rights rulings, such as in sex discrimination cases and police brutality cases, he has also helped approve some of the largest cases in California history, such as certifying a Wal-Mart class action suit in 2004, then the largest ever to be certified in U.S. history. However his rulings have also been described as “middle of the road,” with many colleagues saying that he leaves any political agenda “off the table.”
Judicial appointments by liberals such as Bill Clinton and by conservatives such as Pete Wilson, as well as being approved to law positions by Ronald Reagan and Gavin Newsom, have given Jenkins a wide berth of credibility by differing parties over the years.
“He’s well liked,” said San Francisco lawyer Judith Bledsoe. “He’s also someone that most Democrats and Republicans would accept. The black community has been wanting a higher justice in the court since the 90’s, and gay residents have said they felt they were unrepresented. Republicans didn’t want another person far to the left, but Democrats sure as hell didn’t want a conservative. And Newsom always looks out for San Francisco people. And everyone wanted the next judge to have experience from state and federal levels, along with businesses wanting someone who had worked for a company for awhile.”
“Jenkins was honestly the closest to perfect choice out there. If he was playing judicial candidate bingo, he would have marked a nearly full card by now.”
Jenkins’ name will next be submitted to the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation and must be approved by the Commission on Judicial Appointments before Jenkins is elevated to the state Supreme Court.
Both Jenkins and Newsom both expressed hope that he will be confirmed by next month.
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