When Judge Tressa Alioth was sworn in last year as a district court judge in Nebraska, she was shocked to learn she was the first Black woman to be appointed.
The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the state has always lacked Black representation in its courtrooms. In 1971, Elizabeth Davis Pittman became the first woman and Black person to serve as a judge in the state. The next Black woman appointed to a state bench was Edna Atkins in 1992. Both women served as judges in Douglas County and were appointed by Democratic governors. The first Black man to be named a district court judge in Nebraska was Marlon Polk in 2005.
“Obviously, we’ve had other people of color, just not a Black woman,” Alioth told the Journal Star.
Alioth was appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts after more than two decades serving as a prosecutor in the state. During her time in the state’s courtrooms, the justice has been particularly aware of “quite frankly, just lack of diversity in our field, period.”
The Omaha native and Creighton University School of Law graduate added that during her time as both a judge and prosecutor, she has been greeted with shocked faces in the courtroom, due to her race and position.
The lack of diversity in U.S courtrooms is changing at the federal and lower levels. According to the Brennan Center, the Biden administration has “nominated by any measure the most demographically diverse set of judicial candidates in history and by doing so has, in just one year, reduced slightly but noticeably the percentage of white males among active-status judges; appointed an unprecedented number of former public defenders, and filled proportionately more statutory judgeships than most predecessors.”
That includes the first Black female Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed in April. Black women are also being appointed at the lower levels. Earlier this month, Lisa Holder White was appointed as the first Black woman on the Illinois State Supreme Court.
Diversity is needed in courtrooms across the country. Many judges do not have a…
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