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California confirms Martin Jenkins as state's first openly gay Supreme Court justice

California made history on Tuesday when it confirmed its first openly gay state Supreme Court justice, according to a press release. Associate Justice Martin J. Jenkins, 66, is also the third-ever Black man to serve on the Golden State's highest court.

Jenkins' appointment was approved by a unanimous vote in the Supreme Court courtroom in San Francisco, officials said.

A report from the state's Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation concluded that Jenkins, a Democrat, is "exceptionally well qualified" — the highest possible assessment — to serve on the court. "He is praised for his brilliant intellect, first-class temperament and boundless humanity," the report added.

Governor Gavin Newsom nominated Jenkins in October for the position, to fill the vacancy of Justice Ming Chin, who retired in August. He will be the first African American man to serve on the state's Supreme Court in 29 years, according to the governor's office.

"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 at the time.

Jenkins' career spans more than four decades. He has worked in the Newsom administration as the governor's judicial appointments secretary since 2019.

"As a critical member of my senior leadership team, I've seen firsthand that Justice Jenkins possesses brilliance and humility in equal measure," Newsom said. "The people of California could not ask for a better jurist or kinder person to take on this important responsibility."

Martin Jenkins
Martin Jenkins, 66, becomes the first openly gay associate justice confirmed to California's Supreme Court. Jason Doiy / Handout via California Commission on Judicial Appointments

Jenkins earned his law degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law, according to the release. He then served as a prosecutor for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office for three years before working as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he litigated civil rights cases, and worked at the legal department at Pacific Bell in San Francisco.

He was a judge on the Oakland Municipal Court and the Alameda County Superior Court before being appointed by former President Bill Clinton to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in 1997. From 2008 until 2019, he worked as an associate justice on the First District Court of Appeal, the release noted.

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