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Retired Denver judges react to Biden's Supreme Court nominee

Supreme Court
Posted at 4:17 PM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 19:37:42-05

DENVER – Following President Biden's nomination of the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, two Black judges in Denver are reflecting on their barrier-breaking law careers.

“I was appointed in 1994 by Mayor Webb,” said retired Judge Claudia Jordan, Colorado’s first Black female judge. “The story here in Colorado is an example of how long it took to get a number of Black women on the bench.”

Jordan said there are still barriers to break in Colorado. Only one Black judge has served on Colorado’s Supreme Court, and a Black woman has yet to serve.

“We still need representation in all of those places," said Jordan. "It is important because I think we do have a unique voice, and I think it is important that all types of people are present at the table to be in that room."

Retired Judge Gary Jackson, who now serves at the co-chair for the Coalition on Judicial Diversity, said Colorado also lacks representation on the Colorado Court of Appeals.

“We do not have a Black judge out of 22 judges on our Colorado Court of Appeals, which I consider to be an embarrassment to the state because this state is known for being progressive,” Jackson said. “We are not alone. There are approximately 23 other states in the United States that have never had a Black Supreme Court justice.”

Jackson said those statistics remind him of when he first started his law career in 1971.

“There were only 15 Black lawyers in the state," he said. "At that time, I was the only Black deputy district attorney in the state of Colorado."

Back then, Jackson faced criticism, especially for his choice of hairstyle.

“Within a week of being hired as an intern for the district attorney's office, I received anonymous letters criticizing my appearance. At that time, I had a long fro that I wore,” Jackson said. “A federal court judge, every time I spoke to him, he would swirl around in his chair so that I was talking to his back. So there were hurtful times.”

But Jackson said there was also a lot of community support.

“Let me just say that the community response has always been 90% positive, whether I was a prosecutor, whether during the 37 years that I owned and operated my own private practice, or as a judge. I'd have to say that the overwhelming majority of people were very, very positive, and supportive," Jackson said.

Jackson said he hopes the other Judge Jackson receives the same.

“I'm very excited for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. I like her last name, Jackson, and this is a great moment in our history,” he said.

Jordan said she is also excited to witness this moment in history.

“I just can't wait until she is actually confirmed and takes the oath,” she said.

Jordan also had some advice for Jackson, from one “first” to another.

“Be yourself. That's what got you this far, so that's what you need to carry you on,” Jordan said.

Senate Democratic leaders hope to have a vote confirming Jackson to the court by mid-April.