Newsom picks first openly gay man to serve on state Supreme Court

SF native Martin Jenkins third black man ever to serve on high court, first appointed since 1981

Gov. Gavin Newsom (left) named Martin Jenkins (right) to the California Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. (Courtesy photo)

Gov. Gavin Newsom (left) named Martin Jenkins (right) to the California Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. (Courtesy photo)

By Eli Walsh

Bay City News Foundation

Gov. Gavin Newsom nominated Bay Area native Martin Jenkins to the California Supreme Court Monday, making him the first openly gay man to serve on the court in state history if confirmed.

Newsom tapped Jenkins, 66, to replace former Associate Justice Ming Chin, 77, who announced at the beginning of the year that he would retire from the court Aug. 31.

Jenkins must be confirmed to the court by the California Commission on Judicial Appointments, which is composed of Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and the most senior presiding judge in the state’s appellate court system. Newsom said he expected Jenkins to be confirmed as soon as next month.

Jenkins, in addition to being the court’s first openly gay justice, will be just the third Black associate justice ever to serve on the court, and the first to be appointed since the 1981 appointment of Allen Broussard.

“I understand it has been 29 years since an African American man has served on the high court,” Jenkins said. “And I would not be here today without the support and mentorship of both of those men.”

Jenkins served as a judge on the California Court of Appeal for the First District from April 2008 to January 2019, when Newsom tapped Jenkins to be his judicial appointments secretary. Jenkins was born in San Francisco and, following a brief stint in the NFL as a defensive back for the Seattle Seahawks, chose to go into the field of law.

Jenkins served a deputy district attorney and a prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division before becoming a judge in the Alameda County court system. In 1997, then-President Bill Clinton appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where he served before former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to the state appeals court system.

“(Jenkins is) a man of inner strength, grace and compassion who knows that despite what the (Declaration of Independence) says, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not simply inalienable; they must be relentlessly protected and defended,” Newsom said.

California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus Chair and state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, lauded Newsom for addressing the under-representation of LGBTQ people in the court system, particularly at the higher levels.

“His distinguished legal career, particularly as a justice on the California Court of Appeal and a United States district judge, will serve him and all of us well,” Wiener said in a joint statement with Legislative LGBTQ Caucus Vice Chair Todd Gloria, D-San Diego. “Moreover, as a Black gay man, Justice Jenkins brings an important perspective to the court during a period of time when our society is moving through a long-overdue reckoning on race,” Wiener and Gloria said.

Jenkins identified the greatest challenge of his life as being a gay Black man, and conceded that it has not been easy identifying as such. He also urged young people similarly struggling with their identities to be true to themselves.

“I am not here in spite of the struggle, I am here because of the struggle,” Jenkins said. “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 effectively.”

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