Supreme Court nominee resonates with Black women in law

As Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson spoke at her first day of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, it was like a page of history turning for many Americans, including one judge who made history herself as the first Black woman to take the bench in Northern California. 

"This confirmation hearing is a huge deal. It's a big deal for America and the reason I say that is that the US Supreme Court should look like America. It has not," said LaDoris Hazzard Cordell, a retired judge with the Superior Court of California.

Cordell is among many Black attorneys and judges nationwide who have been waiting for this moment to see the nation's diversity reflected in the judicial system.

"We wait until 1981 when we get the first woman...'til 1967 to get the first African American, so things are changing," said Cordell.

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One of the challenges, she says, has been the lack of a pipeline for Black women in law.

"There are about 1.1 million lawyers in this country and about 5% are black women, so maybe about 55,000 Black female lawyers," said Cordell.

Judge Cordell says while watching Judge Jackson, she can relate to some pressures of being a pioneer.

Cordell's website shows how she also forged a path in 1982 becoming the first African American woman judge in Northern California.

She says at that time, she often came face-to-face with people who did not treat her with the respect given to her white male counterparts.

"When I got on the bench, not being addressed properly by some lawyers.  One of them called me 'honey'. And I said 'excuse me?" Cordell said.

In her recent book titled Her Honor, Judge Cordell also explains the additional pressures she and many others have felt as a Black woman on the bench.

"When you're the first there are generally two types of pressure. There's pressure from those who are the status quo, and sometimes they're the good old boys who don't want change and expect you to fail," said Cordell, "Then there's the other camp and that's generally women, people of color in my instance, who wanted me to succeed. So there were these diametrically opposing pressures: the expectation of success, the hope of success and the expectation of failure and the hope of failure."

"My first years on the bench I was terrified. I had to come through. I had to be prepared. I had to be successful in what I was doing," said Judge Cordell.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings are expected to continue on Tuesday and Wednesday with Senators posing questions to Judge Jackson.  On Thursday, Senators are expected to hear testimony from others. Then the 20-member committee makes its recommendation to the full Senate for a vote.

Judge Jackson was confirmed by the same committee for a previous appointment by a vote of 53-44, with support from three Republicans.