By Carla Marinucci 10/05/2020 03:01 PM EDT
OAKLAND — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is appointing Martin Jenkins to the California Supreme Court, the first openly gay justice and third African American man nominated for the state’s highest court.
Jenkins, 66, currently serves as Newsom’s judicial appointments secretary. A native of San Francisco and the son of a janitor and nurse, Jenkins became an NFL cornerback with the Seattle Seahawks before entering law and a judicial path that has earned him praise — and key appointments — from both Republican and Democratic governors.
His appointment was celebrated by those in the legal community, who called it a legal landmark. Burlingame attorney Joe Cotchett, who’s known Jenkins for over three decades, said he is “probably the finest judge and individual that you will ever meet. He’s a devout Catholic, a man who believes strongly in integrity and God — and as an African American and a member of the LGBTQ community, he brings to the court a whole new aspect of our society.”
Prior to his appointment in Newsom’s cabinet, Jenkins served as an associate justice on the California 1st District Court of Appeal after an appointment by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He had served previously on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, nominated by President Bill Clinton. Earlier in his career, Jenkins was appointed to the Oakland Municipal Court by Republican Gov. George Dukemajian in 1989 and to the Alameda Superior Court by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson in 1992.
“Justice Jenkins is widely respected among lawyers and jurists, active in his Oakland community and his faith, and is a decent man to his core,” Newsom said in a statement. “As a critical member of my senior leadership team, I’ve seen firsthand that Justice Jenkins possesses brilliance and humility in equal measure. The people of California could not ask for a better jurist or kinder person to take on this important responsibility.”
Jenkins is now a resident of Oakland. He attended Santa Clara University — the alma mater of Newsom — where he was elected captain of the school’s football team. Jenkins was drafted to play for the Seattle Seahawks as a cornerback and left the NFL to enter the University of San Francisco Law School on the Academic Support Program, aimed at aiding students needing special support.
He graduated with honors and became an attorney with Pacific Bell and then a prosecutor in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and later went to the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department.
He was appointed in January 2019 to be Newsom’s legal appointments secretary, charged with vetting candidates for vacancies in the state’s appellate and trial courts.
Jenkins appointment marks only the second gay and black justice to serve on a state Supreme Court
nationwide. Grace Helen Whitener, an LGBTQ Trinidadian American attorney and jurist, now serves as an associate justice of the Washington Supreme Court, after being nominated by Governor Jay Inslee earlier this year.