California Legislature Celebrating 50 Years Of African-American Justices
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Fifty years ago, the first African-American justice on the California Court of Appeal was appointed by Gov. Edmund “Pat” Brown.
The justice was Edwin Jefferson, a then-Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who had become the state’s first black trial judge 20 years earlier. He took his seat on the Court of Appeal in Los Angeles on Oct. 1, 1961.
Since then, 13 other African-American justices have been appointed to Courts of Appeal based in San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and Riverside.
Three have been appointed to the California Supreme Court, including two from Oakland: Wiley Manuel, who served on the high court from 1977 to 1981, and Allen Broussard, who was a Supreme Court justice from 1981 to 1991.
On Monday, the California Legislature will celebrate the 50 years of service by African-American justices on the appeals courts and Supreme Court.
The Senate and Assembly are expected to pass resolutions honoring the justices and both houses will hold ceremonies at noon.
“We salute them,” said Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, who chairs the California Legislative Black Caucus.
“These brilliant trailblazers have played integral roles in securing our basic freedoms and ensuring that all Californians have access to equal justice under the law,” Price said last week.
The caucus’s vice chair, Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, said, “We would like to commend the California judicial system on this 50th anniversary of improving diversity among those serving on the bench. It is important to recognize both this achievement and the service of the remarkable individuals involved.”
Manuel, the first African-American on the California Supreme Court, was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1977, during Brown’s first term as governor.
He had previously served for 23 years in the state attorney general’s office, rising to become the chief assistant attorney general, and also served one year as an Alameda County Superior Court judge. His term on the Supreme Court was cut short by his untimely death at age 53 in 1981.
The Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse of Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland is named after him, as are the State Bar’s Wiley W. Manuel Award for volunteer legal services and Wiley W. Manuel Bar Association of Sacramento County (formerly the Sacramento Association of Black Attorneys).
Broussard, also appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, served on the high court for 10 years until his retirement in 1991.
He had previously worked in private practice in Oakland and as Alameda County Municipal and Superior Court trial judge for 17 years. In 1972, he was elected the first African-American president of the California Judges Association.
The third African-American on the California Supreme Court was Janice Rogers Brown, a former Court of Appeal justice in Sacramento and former legal affairs secretary to Gov. Pete Wilson.
She was appointed by Wilson in 1996 and served until she left the court to become a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., in 2005. Brown was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush.
While Broussard became the state Supreme Court’s leading liberal after Chief Justice Rose Bird and fellow liberal Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin were denied renewed terms by state voters in 1986, Brown was one of the court’s most conservative justices.
Four African-American justices have served on the Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
Henry Needham, a former Alameda County Superior Court judge, and Martin Jenkins, a former federal judge, are currently on the court. Both are from Oakland and both were appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Clinton White of Oakland served on the appeals court from 1978 to 1994 and former Assemblyman John Miller of Berkeley was on the appellate from 1978 to 1985.
Miller, a former assembly minority leader, was the first Californian African-American justice who had been a member of the Legislature.
The Legislature’s celebrations on Monday will also commemorate the 70th anniversary of Jefferson’s appointment as a Los Angeles County Municipal Court judge by Gov. Cuthbert Olson in 1941.
Jefferson was not only California’s first black trial judge but also the first west of the Mississippi River. He was elevated to Los Angeles Superior Court by Gov. Earl Warren in 1949.
Representation of African-Americans has continued in the state’s trial courts. (California’s Municipal and Superior Court systems have now been consolidated and all trial judges are now Superior Court jurists.)
Ninety, or 5.7 percent, of the state’s 1,588 Superior Court judges identified themselves as black or African-American in 2010, according to statistics collected by the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
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