Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced Bay Area-native Justice Martin Jenkins as his nominee to the California Supreme Court on Monday, calling him a champion of equality particularly across racial and gender divides.
If appointed, Jenkins would become the first openly gay person to serve on the California Supreme Court, and only the third Black man ever to serve on the state’s highest court.
“Martin Jenkins is both a product and a protector of the California dream,” Newsom said during a news briefing on Monday, adding that Jenkins has “spent a lifetime overcoming odds, breaking down barriers and blazing new trails.”
Jenkins would fill a vacancy created by California Supreme Court Justice Ming W. Chin — the first Chinese American justice on the court and its most conservative member — who retired on Aug. 28 at the age of 78. As a Democrat, Jenkins would bolster the Democratic majority on the state’s seven-member Supreme Court.
During the briefing Monday, Jenkins thanked Newsom for “seeing him” for who he is as an openly gay Black man and promised to do his best to “dispatch the enormous responsibilities that encompass this great office.”
“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.”
Jenkins, 66, of Oakland, was born in San Francisco and grew up cleaning office buildings and churches with his father who worked as a clerk and janitor for the city and county of San Francisco. He graduated from Santa Clara University in 1977 and played a brief stint in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, before deciding that he wanted to pursue a career in law.
He earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law and started his career as a prosecutor for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
Throughout his career, Jenkins has served a wide variety of roles in the state’s judicial system — from litigating civil rights cases for the U.S. Department of Justice to serving as a judge on the Alameda County Superior Court and the Oakland Municipal Court to most recently becoming Newsom’s Judicial Appointments Secretary.
Then-President Bill Clinton nominated him in 1997 to serve on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California and later on, he was nominated by former California Arnold Schwarzenegger and appointed to serve on California’s First District Court of Appeals.
In his role as judicial appointments secretary, Jenkins has appointed 45 jurists with the goal of helping to promote diversity and build a judiciary that reflects the populations in those communities and played an integral role in promoting transparency so that for the first time in state history, the individuals who provide feedback on judicial candidates for nomination and appointment will be known to the public
Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur called Newsom’s appointment of the state’s first openly gay supreme court justice “a monumental step forward for the LGBTQ+ community and for our entire state.”
“Not only is Justice Jenkins exceptionally qualified and an outstanding choice for California’s highest court, but he embodies the values of our great state,” Chaves Zbur said. “Governor Newsom is setting a national example as he works to ensure California’s government reflects the diversity of the people they serve.”
Jenkin’s nomination will be submitted to the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation and must be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. The annual compensation for the position is $261,949.
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