List of African-American jurists

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This list includes individuals self-identified as African Americans who have made prominent contributions to the field of law in the United States, especially as eminent judges or legal scholars. Individuals who may have obtained law degrees or practiced law, but whose reasons for notability are not closely related to that profession, are generally not listed here.


Name Birth/Death Comments Reference
Dennis Archer (1942–present) First African American president of the American Bar Association, former mayor of Detroit. [1]
Deborah A. Batts (1947–present) Federal Judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. In June 1994, Deborah Batts was sworn in as a Federal District Judge for Manhattan, becoming the nation's first openly LGBT, African-American federal judge. [2]
Derrick Bell (1930–2011) Proponent of Critical race theory and Law Professor at Harvard University. [3]
Janice Rogers Brown (1949–present) Federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. [4]
Stephen L. Carter (1954–present) William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School. [5]
Johnnie Cochran (1937–2005) Prominent defense attorney. [6]
Tom Colbert (1949–present) First African-American Justice on the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Christopher Darden (1956–present) Associate District Attorney of Los Angeles who gained fame as a prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial. [7]
Marian Wright Edelman (1939–present) Founder of the Children's Defense Fund. [8]
Lani Guinier (1950–present) Voting rights scholar and first African American woman tenured by Harvard Law School. [9]
William Henry Harrison Hart (1857-1934) Attorney who fought against Jim Crow laws
A. Leon Higginbotham (1928–1998) Circuit judge, law professor, author, and international mediator in first South African non-racial elections. [10]
Jerome A. Holmes (1961–present) First African American judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. [11]
Barbara Jordan (1936–1996) First African American Congresswoman from a southern state, while on House Judiciary Committee was influential in impeachment of Richard Nixon. [12]
Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993) NAACP Legal Defense Fund founder and Supreme Court of the United States Associate Justice. [13]
Wade H. McCree (1920–1987) Second African American (following Thurgood Marshall) to serve as Solicitor General of the United States.
Constance Baker Motley (1921–2005) Wrote the original complaint in the case of Brown v. Board of Education; first African American female Federal Court judge.
Barack Obama (1961–present) University of Chicago Law Professor, United States Senator, first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review, and 44th President of the United States of America [14]
Alan Page (1945–present) Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice.
Vel Phillips (1924–present) First African-American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School, first African-American AND first woman on the Milwaukee Common Council, first African-American judge in Wisconsin, first woman judge in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, first non-white statewide elected official in Wisconsin, first non-white on a major party's national committee.
Cecil F. Poole (1914-1997) First African-American U.S. Attorney; first African-American U.S. District Judge, Northern District of California, and first African-American circuit judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Judith Ann Wilson Rogers (1939–present) First African-American female on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Leah Ward Sears (1955–present) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia and, at the time of her retirement, one of two African-American female Chief Justices in the United States. When appointed, youngest person to have sat on the Georgia Supreme Court.
Clarence Thomas (1948–present) Supreme Court of the United States Associate Justice.
James Lopez Watson (1922–2001) First post-Reconstruction African American Federal judge.
Patricia J. Williams (1951–present) Proponent of Critical race theory and Law Professor at Columbia University. [15]
William F. Yardley (1844–1924) Anti-segregation advocate, first African American candidate for governor of Tennessee (1876) [16]

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Smith, Jr., John Clay (1999). Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812216851.