Martin Jenkins, a retired justice and lawyer and gay Black man, was nominated to the California Supreme Court on Monday.

Jenkins, who rose from humble beginnings as a janitor to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan across the country, would be California’s first openly gay Supreme Court justice. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Jenkins has “advanced the cause of equality, particularly across racial and gender divides.”

“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. “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.”

Jenkins, 66, a San Francisco native, would become the third African American man to ever serve on the state’s high court. He thanked Newsom for “seeing him.”

“I’m not here in spite of the struggle, I am here because of the struggle,” Jenkins said. “It is deep in my character, has afforded me sensibilities of 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.”

It’s been 29 years since a Black man has served on the California Supreme Court.

Jenkins graduated from Santa Clara University and played professional football for the Seattle Seahawks before deciding to pursue a legal career. He earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Francisco and took his first job as a prosecutor in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.

Jenkins worked for the U.S. Department of Justice during the Reagan administration, litigating civil rights cases, police misconduct and KKK cross burnings. In 1997, former President Bill Clinton appointed Jenkins to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. 

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Joseph Quinn told the Bay Area Reporter Jenkins’ nomination was a “great day for the LGBTQ community!”


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