First openly gay justice confirmed for California Supreme Court

SAN FRANCISCO — Martin Jenkins won unanimous confirmation on Tuesday to the California Supreme Court, becoming the first openly gay member and the fifth Black justice in the court’s history.

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Jenkins, who turns 67 on Thursday, was confirmed by a three-member judicial appointments commission after an hourlong hearing, the Los Angeles Times reported. He was praised by the panel for his “brilliant intellect, first-class temperament, and boundless humanity.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom nominated Jenkins last month to replace Justice Ming Chin, who retired Aug. 31, The Associated Press reported.

During a news conference last month, Jenkins said his identity as a gay man was “perhaps the greatest challenge of my life.”

Jenkins, a San Francisco native, will become the fifth Democratic appointee on the seven-member court, the Times reported. He has served in several jurisdictions, including the Alameda County Municipal Court and the 1st District San Francisco-based state Court of Appeal, according to the newspaper. Jenkins was also appointed to the federal bench in 1998 by President Bill Clinton.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Jenkins to the state Courts of Appeal in 2008.

“His colleagues fondly referred to him, as did I, as the James Brown of the judiciary,” former federal colleague, retired U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, told Courthouse News. “The singer James Brown was known as the hardest working man in showbiz. And Marty, we felt, was certainly the hardest working man on our court.”

Jenkins retired from the intermediate court of appeal in 2019 and worked as Newsom’s judicial appointments secretary. When Chin retired, Newsom decided to nominate Jenkins.

Jenkins told the Commission on Judicial Appointments that it took him almost four days to accept the offer.

“Ultimately, being a man of faith, I felt this was a calling,” Jenkins told the Times. “I’ve never once, never once, refused a call to service.”

Jenkins will serve at least through the end of Chin’s term in 2022.

Jenkins graduated from Santa Clara University in 1976 and the University of San Francisco School of Law in 1980, Courthouse News reported.

After law school, he worked as a prosecutor with the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.

Jenkins joins a diverse Supreme Court, the AP reported. That includes Justice Leondra Kruger, who is also Black; Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, who is Latino; two Asian Americans, Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye and Justice Goodwin Liu; and white justices Joshua Groban and Carol Corrigan.