Newsom Appoints First Openly Gay Justice to California Supreme Court

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Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed retired judge Martin Jenkins to the state Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 5. (Courtesy of California Courts)

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday appointed Martin Jenkins to the California Supreme Court, who if confirmed will become the first Black man on the court in 29 years and its first openly gay member.

Jenkins, 66, is the son of a janitor who became a prosecutor and then a judge, overseeing municipal, state and federal courts.

"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," he said during an online news conference Monday.

"I am not here in spite of the struggle. I'm here because of the struggle. It is deep in my character."

Acknowledging the significance of being the first openly gay member of California's highest court, Jenkins said he hoped the move would send a message to LGBT youth.

"I want these young people to know that living a life of authenticity is the greatest gift you can give yourself," Jenkins said. "And if you do that, you too will find yourself in a position where people see you. They really see you and who you are, your authentic self and the extraordinary opportunity being offered today."

LGBT rights attorney Kate Kendell applauded the appointment, Newsom's first to the state's high court.

"I love it. I think it's fantastic," she said. "To see this justice representing the Black and gay communities is for every young LGBT person in California to be able to look to that court and see him or herself and know that the promise of justice is not empty, but real."

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Jenkins is a Democrat, but has been appointed to various courts over the years by the last three Republican governors. President Clinton named Jenkins to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in 1997. He then served on the California Court of Appeal for the First District before retiring from the bench in 2019 to become Newsom's Judicial Appointments secretary.

"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,” Newsom said during Monday's announcement.

If confirmed, Jenkins will replace retired Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin, who stepped down at the end of August.

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Jenkins attended San Francisco City College and earned his law degree from the University of San Francisco. He said his parents never would have imagined that he would be named to serve on the state's highest court.

"They taught us respect for others, and as importantly, they taught us the value of serving others — public service, which my father modeled as a janitor at Coit Tower for well over 25 years," Jenkins said.

If confirmed, Jenkins will be the first Black man on the seven-member court since Allen Broussard retired in 1991. Associate Justice Leondra Kruger, appointed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, is also Black. Jenkins will be second oldest member of the court, behind Associate Justice Carol Corrigan, who is 72.

The nomination must now be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, comprised of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and senior Presiding Justice of the state Court of Appeal J. Anthony Kline.

Newsom predicted a quick confirmation and said Jenkins could join the court "as soon as next month."