Governor Newsom Nominates First Openly Gay Justice to CA Supreme Court

By Lauren Smith

SACRAMENTO – Gov. Gavin Newsom Monday nominated Justice Martin Jenkins for the California Supreme Court – he would be the first openly gay and third Black man to serve on the California Supreme Court. It has been 29 years since an African American has served on the court.

“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 Newsom, adding “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.”

Justice Jenkin thanked Governor Newsom for the nomination stating, “I am truly humbled and honored to be asked by the Governor to continue serving the people of California on the Supreme Court. If confirmed, I will serve with the highest ethical standards that have guided me throughout my career, informed by the law and what I understand to be fair and just.”

Born and raised in the Bay area, Justice Jenkins grew up working with his father cleaning office buildings and churches. His parents work ethic heavily influenced him to “work hard, stay later and
go the extra mile to succeed,” he said.

This work ethnic eventually led him to a pro football career. After he finished undergrad, Justice Jenkins signed a contract with the Seattle Seahawks, but soon realized that his “true calling” was becoming a lawyer and then judge. He graduated from the University of San Francisco School of Law with a JD degree.

Throughout his “storied legal career,” Justice Jenkins has “advanced the cause of equality, particularly across racial and gender divides.” While his roots trace back to the Jim Crow South and he did not grow up there, “his family’s stories of injustice and blatant discrimination stick with him,” he said.

From 1980 to 1983, Justice Jenkins was a prosecutor for Alameda County.

Working in the Reagan administration as a Civil Rights attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, from 1983 to 1986 Jenkins “pursued cases involving police misconduct and cross burnings.” Justice Jenkins has also “worked to promote gender equality through cases on pregnancy related leave and sex discrimination.”

From 1986 to 1989, Jenkins was a trial attorney for the Pacific Bell Legal Department of San Francisco and from 1989 to 1992 he served on the Oakland Municipal Court. In addition, from 1992 to 1997, Justice Jenkins served on the Alameda County Superior Court

In 1997, Bill Clinton appointed Jenkins to the U.S. District Court of Appeal, First Circuit where he served until 2008. Beginning on 2008, Jenkins was an Associate Justice on the U.S. Court of Appeal, First Circuit, before becoming the Judicial Appointment Secretary in 2019.
As Judicial Appointments Secretary, Jenkins “guided” Governor Newsom’s administration’s efforts to “build a judiciary that reflects the people they serve.”

He has also “spearheaded transparency” by making the Regional Judicial Selection Advisory Committees public for the first time in California’s history. Jenkins has “worked closely” with these advisory committees helping to appoint 45 jurists and “promote diversity of the California judiciary for years to come.”

Multiple judges, justices, attorney’s and others commended Governor Newsom’s nomination.

Retired Senior U.S. District Judge of Northern District of California Thelton Henderson, shared an anecdote about the first time he met Justice Jenkins. “I met Marty over three decades ago when he dropped into my office because he had heard I too played football before making the switch to law…we talked for hours that day…I followed his legal career after that…[and he] eventually [became] my colleague and…neighbor in the courthouse.

“I can say without a doubt that I have never seen a harder working and more dedicated judicial officer in my entire career. Nobody stayed in the office later than Marty. He was intensely aware that real people’s lives were affected by his rulings and wanted to make sure he got it right. That’s the kind of man he is. Governor Newsom could not have made a better appointment than Marty” Thelton concluded.

Retired California Supreme Court Associate Justice Carlos R. Moreno noted, “Marty Jenkins brings an extraordinary amount of trial court and appellate experience to this position, with a deep sense of humility and character. He understands the importance of having diverse voices in the judiciary. The people of California will be well-served by his perspective in the years to come.”

“Justice Jenkins is a man of impeccable honor and integrity, he has enormous compassion and empathy, and he is devoted to the law and to public service,” said Melinda Haag, partner at Orrick law firm and former Northern California District U.S. Attorney.

“I have the highest respect and the deepest admiration for Justice Marty Jenkins,” said the President of University of San Francisco Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald. “He is a man of faith, of integrity, of humility and of kindness…His whole career has modeled that generosity of spirit and that balance of justice and mercy.”

Senior U.S. District Judge of the Norther California U.S. District Court, Saundra Armstrong stated that Justice Jenkins “presides and decides in an open-minded, even-tempered, courteous, patient and compassionate manner. Importantly, Justice Jenkins never loses sight of the fact that, behind every case file, stand people who will be impacted by his decision.

“He is a courageous jurist who is not haunted or immobilized by the fear of being wrong, nor is he struck with a sense of his own immutable correctness. What’s important to Justice Jenkins is achieving results that are just, and that…is the quality of an excellent judge,” she added.

“Governor Newsom’s appointment of California’s first openly gay supreme court justice is a monumental step forward for the LGBTQ+ community and for our entire state,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur.

“Not only is Justice Jenkins exceptionally qualified and an outstanding choice for California’s highest court, but he embodies the values of our great state. Governor Newsom is setting a national example as he works to ensure California’s government reflects the diversity of the people they serve.”

Justice Jenkins will fill the vacancy created by Associate Justice Ming W. Chin’s retirement. Governor Newsom’s nomination will be submitted to the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation and later confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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