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Martin Jenkins confirmed as first gay California Supreme Court justice

Martin Jenkins

California Supreme Court nominee Martin Jenkins speaks Tuesday during a hearing with the Commission on Judicial Appointments. Jenkins was unanimously confirmed as the first openly gay man to serve on the California Supreme Court. He also is only the third Black man to sit on the bench. Photo: Commission on Judicial Appointments

Martin Jenkins was unanimously confirmed today as the first openly gay man to serve on the California Supreme Court. He also is only the third Black man to sit on the bench. 

Jenkins’ nomination, which Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in October, was confirmed in Sacramento during a hearing with the three-member Commission on Judicial Appointments.

Jenkins appointment is effective immediately.

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During his acceptance speech, Jenkins thanked his partner, real estate broker, Sydney Shand, whom he fell in love with two years ago. Jenkins said he never thought he would be in a relationship because he didn’t accept himself as gay.

“Now I understand what people in a loving relationship have,” said Jenkins, who was a little choked up during the remarks. “Thank you, Sydney.”

In its report, the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation said Jenkins was rated as “exceptionally well qualified.”

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The rating reflects “the Commission’s determination that Justice Jenkins possesses qualities and attributes of remarkable or extraordinary superiority that enable him to perform the appellate judicial function with distinction.”

After a brief stint in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, Jenkins was admitted to the University of San Francisco School of Law and received his J.D. degree in 1980.

In his career, Jenkins has worked as a trial attorney for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, as well as for Pacific Bell’s legal department.

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Appointed to the Alameda County Superior Court in 1989, Jenkins served until 1997 when he was appointed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

While on the federal bench, he served on the Non-Appropriated Fund Committee, the Discipline Oversight Committee, the CARES Public Outreach Committee, and the Ninth Circuit Article III Judges’ Education Committee.

As a federal judge, Jenkins presided over significant cases including Dukes v. Walmart – a nationwide class action suit against Walmart stores alleging sexual discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. At that time, the case was the largest class action ever to be certified by an American court.

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From 2008 to 2019, Jenkins served as an associate justice of the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District. During his tenure, he also served three times as justice pro tempore on the California Supreme Court.

From February 2019 to the present, Jenkins has worked as the senior judicial appointments secretary, advising Newsom on all state court judicial appointments.

“Justice Jenkins’ impressive 30-year record of professional accomplishment is equally matched by his strength of character, compassion, and integrity,” the evaluation report said. “Justice Jenkins embodies the qualities sought in a Supreme Court candidate: collegiality, writing ability, scholarship and distinction in the legal profession coupled with an unparalleled breadth of experience.

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“Moreover, his compassion, humility, lifelong commitment to public service, and passion for justice make him a most deserving and worthy addition to the state’s highest court,” the report said.

Jenkins will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Ming Chin on Aug. 31.

The Commission members who considered Jenkins appointment were Chief Justice of California Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and senior presiding justice of the state Court of Appeal J. Anthony Kline.

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About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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