Esteemed Black Jurist And Former NFL Player Could Become First Openly Gay Judge To Sit On California Supreme Court

“To some young person who may be out there today, who is struggling with their identity, anyone who knows me knows that my identity as a gay man has perhaps been one of the greatest challenges of my life,” Martin Jenkins said

by Keka Araújo

Stock photo of gavel / Photo Credit: Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has nominated an esteemed Black jurist for the coveted seat on California’s Supreme Court. If appointed, Justice Martin Jenkins would become not only the third Black person to hold the position but the first openly gay judge in the high court’s history. Newsom made the announcement on Monday during a press conference, saying Jenkins, who is also a former NFL player, was ”a living and breathing example that love means love.” 

During the press conference, Jenkins thanked the governor for the nomination and spoke about the significance of him being a “first.”

Jenkins’ monumental nomination came on the same day that U.S. Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito denounced the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that extended marriage rights to gay couples, Law.com reported

Jenkins gave a powerful speech in response to his nomination.

“To some young person who may be out there today, who is struggling with their identity, anyone who knows me knows that my identity as a gay man has perhaps been one of the greatest challenges of my life,” he said candidly. “It has not been easy. To those young people, I am not here in spite of the struggle; I am here because of the struggle.”

Anyone who knows me knows my identity has been as a gay man, perhaps the greatest challenge of my life,” Jenkins continued. “It has not been easy. But I want to say to those young people today who may be watching…that I am not here in spite of the struggle. I am here because of the struggle. It is deep in my character, afforded me sensibilities about the world and people who are not so willing to accept that people are able to love differently than they do.”

The jurist has previously worked as a civil rights attorney, an appointment to a federal bench, and, most recently, guiding the Newsom Administration’s efforts to build a judiciary that reflects the vibrance and diversity of California as judicial appointments secretary since 2019. Jenkins, a University of San Francisco law school graduate and former Seattle Seahawks cornerback, has an extensive track record in the law game. Jenkins was also nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in 1997 by former President Bill Clinton

Newsom congratulated Jenkins via Twitter.

“Honored to nominate Justice Martin Jenkins to the CA Supreme Court. He is a person of the highest principles. A product and protector of the California Dream, he wrote. “And will be the first openly gay Justice and third Black man to serve on the state’s highest court. Congratulations!”

In a statement, the governor said the court hadn’t had a Black justice in 29 years. Newsom also lauded Jenkins’ career trajectory thus far.

“[Jenkins] has advanced the cause of equality, particularly across racial and gender divides,” the governor wrote. According to Gov. Newsom’s press release, the 66-year-old justice was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where his father was a clerk and janitor at Coit Tower. Jenkins’ family’s roots traced back to the South, a region so fraught with racist history it inspired Jenkins to want to make a change.

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