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 (born 1942) First African American president of the American Bar Association; former mayor of Detroit [1]
Deborah A. Batts (born 1947) 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; law professor at Harvard University [3]
Janice Rogers Brown (born 1949) Federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit [4]
Stephen L. Carter (born 1954) William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School [5]
Johnnie Cochran (1937–2005) Prominent defense attorney [6]
Tom Colbert (born 1949) First African-American Justice on the Oklahoma Supreme Court
Christopher Darden (born 1956) Associate District Attorney of Los Angeles who gained fame as a prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial [7]
Marian Wright Edelman (born 1939) Founder of the Children's Defense Fund [8]
Lani Guinier (born 1950) Voting rights scholar; first African American woman tenured by Harvard Law School [9]
William Henry Harrison Hart (1857–1934) Attorney who fought against Jim Crow laws
William Henry Hastie (1904 – 1976) First African-American federal judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
A. Leon Higginbotham (1928–1998) Circuit judge, law professor, author, and international mediator in first South African non-racial elections [10]
Jerome A. Holmes (born 1961) 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
James Campbell Matthews (1844–1930) Attorney and judge. The first African American law school graduate in New York. Replaced Frederick Douglass as recorder of deeds in 1886. In November, 1895, Matthews was elected judge of the recorder's court in Albany, New York. [14]
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 (born 1961) 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 [15]
Alan Page (born 1945) Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice
Vel Phillips (born 1924) 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 (born 1939) First African-American female on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Leah Ward Sears (born 1955) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia;, at the time of her retirement, one of two African-American female Chief Justices in the United States; when appointed, youngest person to sit on the Georgia Supreme Court
Clarence Thomas (born 1948) Supreme Court of the United States Associate Justice
James Lopez Watson (1922–2001) the first African-American judge to head a federal court in the Deep South
Patricia J. Williams (born 1951) Proponent of critical race theory; law professor at Columbia University [16]
William F. Yardley (1844–1924) Anti-segregation advocate; first African American candidate for governor of Tennessee (1876) [17]
Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911) first Black American female lawyer in the United States
Violette Neatley Anderson (1882 –1937) first African-American woman to practice law before the United States Supreme Court on January 29, 1926
Ida Platt (1862-1939) first African-American woman licensed to practice law in Illinois, and the third in the United States

Other topics of interest[edit]


  1. ^ Dennis Archer Becomes First African American President-Elect of the American Bar Association [1]
  2. ^ National Black Justice Coalition (February 20, 2009), The Honorable Deborah A. Batts: Profile in Courage, Retrieved on March 5, 2009.
  3. ^ Derrick Bell: The Art and Dynamics of Protest Archived 2005-11-25 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ PBS NOW: Janice Rogers Brown's Record
  5. ^ Yale Law School page on Stephen L. Carter
  6. ^ CNN obituary of Cochran
  7. ^ "UMKC Biography of Christopher Darden". Archived from the original on 2005-12-28. Retrieved 2005-12-23.
  8. ^ Women's History Profile of Marian Wright Edelman
  9. ^ Harvard University biography of Lani Guinier
  10. ^ Howard University biography of A. Leon Higginbotham Archived 2005-12-16 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ *"Holmes' nomination confirmed," Tulsa World, July 27, 2006
  12. ^ United States Congress biography of Barbara Jordan Archived 2006-01-11 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ George Mason University biography of Thurgood Marshall
  14. ^ "Various Election Topics". Public Opinion. New York, NY: Public Opinion Company: 617. November 14, 1895.
  15. ^ [2]
  16. ^ Commencement speech by Patricia Williams
  17. ^ Lewis Laska, William F. Yardley. Retrieved: 5 April 2011.


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