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]
H. Alfred Glascor (1914–2011) Judge, renowned criminal defense attorney, national and state civic leader, twice-elected Ohio official, legal scholar, world traveler; recognized by President George H.W. Bush and legal associations for his service spanning seven decades
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
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 [14]
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)
Patricia J. Williams (born 1951) Proponent of critical race theory; law professor at Columbia University [15]
William F. Yardley (1844–1924) Anti-segregation advocate; first African American candidate for governor of Tennessee (1876) [16]



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