Justice Martin Jenkins, formerly of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and the Alameda County Superior Court appointed to the CA Supreme Court
Governor Newsom announced today that he is appointing Justice Martin Jenkins to California’s Supreme Court. He is only the third black man, and the first openly gay person, to be appointed to California’s high court. Watch the press conference here
“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,” said Governor Newsom. “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.” Read the press release here
Justice Martin Jenkins has had a remarkably varied career, and personifies the term “renaissance man.”
Justice Jenkins was born and raised in San Francisco. He graduated from Santa Clara University with a Bachelor of Arts degree. While in college, he played defensive back on the Santa Clara Broncos football team. He had a glimpse of the power of the law when his mother was injured in an accident, and received help from a generous pro bono attorney.
After college, Jenkins joined the Seattle Seahawks as a rookie cornerback, but ultimately decided that he could make a bigger difference if he pursued a law degree, and so he enrolled in USF School of Law. He worked at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, and as a prosecutor with the U.S. Justice Department, handling racial violence and police misconduct cases. In 1989, Justice Jenkins was appointed to the Oakland Municipal Court and was elevated to the Alameda County Superior Court in 1992.
Justice Jenkins was confirmed to the U.S. District Court in Northern California in 1997. He spent eleven years on that bench until he was appointed to the California Court of Appeal, First District by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2008. He continued as an appellate justice until 2019, when Governor Newsom named him as his Judicial Appointments Secretary.
In his role as Judicial Appointments Secretary, Justice Jenkins has guided the Newsom Administration’s efforts to build a judiciary that reflects the people they serve. He spearheaded transparency efforts by making public the Regional Judicial Selection Advisory Committees, so that for the first time in California history, the individuals who provide feedback on judicial candidates for nomination and appointment will be known to the public. Justice Jenkins has worked closely with these committees to appoint 45 jurists, helping promote the diversity of the California judiciary for years to come.
Beyond all these accomplishments, Justice Jenkins is known as a person with a deep commitment to giving back and helping others. He has served as a mentor for disadvantaged young people, worked with a youth group at his Oakland church, helped found a charter school in West Oakland, and he speaks regularly in schools. He served on California’s Access to Justice Commission, and has actively encouraged pro bono service. We were honored to have Alameda County’s own Justice Martin Jenkins as our keynote speaker for our 2020 ACBA Installation and Distinguished Service Awards Dinner in January.
What does it take to get appointed to the bench?
Justice Martin Jenkins, Governor Newsom’s Appointments Secretary, addressed this question in his inspiring keynote speech at the ACBA’s annual Installation and Awards dinner on January 23rd, 2020, at the Rotunda building. He urged us not to underestimate Governor Newsom’s intelligence and commitment to justice (despite his fancy hair). The Governor, he said, is firm in his focus on inclusion: California for All. The Governor is sharply aware of the importance of judicial appointments in that focus, and Justice Jenkins is clearly proud to be helping the Governor fulfill that mission.
And in many ways, who better to implement this goal? Justice Jenkins spoke eloquently of his childhood as the son of a janitor at Coit Tower and a mother with severe mental health challenges. His parents prioritized education and worked hard to ensure that his children did, as well. After a brief career in professional football, Justice Jenkins turned to law school in order to make a difference – inspired in part by the pro bono attorney who once helped his family. After working in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, the U.S. Department of Justice, and at Pacific Bell, Justice Jenkins was appointed to the Alameda County Municipal Court, and then elevated to the Superior Court. Then, in 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated him for a seat on the U.S. District Court, where he sat until 2008, when Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him to the California 1st District Court of Appeal. Having thus sat on almost every court possible in our state, Justice Jenkins is uniquely suited to assess judicial applicants.
Justice Jenkins didn’t dismiss the importance of the usual criteria for the bench – a spectrum of legal experience, community service, judicial “temperament” – he offered the three top criteria that this Governor looks to as he considers applicants.
- Humility: Justice Jenkins stated unequivocally that this is the number one criterion that he and the Governor are applying. Courage, the ability to say, “I got it wrong,” the willingness to listen intently and to set aside one’s ego and do what is right – this is critical for judges.
- Intelligence/intellectual curiosity/common sense: Obviously a judge must be intelligent, but they must also be also be able to apply that intelligence to real life. Judges must craft rulings that comply with the law, but also recognize the life realities of those before them. And, even more than a broad experience in legal subject areas, is intellectual curiosity that will enable a new judge to learn a new area of law.
- Broad life experience: Judges with a life experience that spans different communities and ways of living bring that life experience to bear on the bench and are better able to empathize and understand the whole circumstances before them.
Justice Jenkins certainly gave us a lot of information about the process and criteria (more than we have had in the past.) But more than anything, Justice Jenkins inspired us. Fundamentally, he told us, being a judge is a service job. It’s not a job for everyone, but for those who view it in this way, it can be one of the higher forms of public service.