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First openly gay justice confirmed to serve on the California Supreme Court

Martin Jenkins has been confirmed to a seat on the California Supreme Court.
(Handout)

Martin Jenkins, appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, won unanimous confirmation Tuesday to the California Supreme Court, becoming its first openly gay member and the fifth Black justice in the court’s history.

A three-member judicial appointments commission confirmed Jenkins, 66, after an hourlong hearing. The State Bar of California issued a report finding Jenkins exceptionally well qualified, the association’s highest rating. The bar committee that did the evaluation described him as brilliant, even-tempered and compassionate.

Jenkins, considered a moderate, will become the fifth Democratic appointee on the seven-member court. He has extensive judicial experience. Republican governors appointed him to state court positions, from the Alameda County Municipal Court to the 1st District San Francisco-based state Court of Appeal.

Jenkins, a lifelong Democrat, also served on the federal trial bench in San Francisco after being appointed by President Clinton.

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Jenkins retired from the intermediate court of appeal in 2019 and went to work as Newsom’s judicial appointments secretary, where he was vetting candidates for the court vacancy that Newsom eventually asked him to fill. Jenkins told the Commission on Judicial Appointments that it took him nearly four days to accept Newsom’s offer.

“Ultimately, being a man of faith, I felt this was a was a calling,” Jenkins said. “I’ve never once, never once, refused a call to service.”

Jenkins attended a Catholic elementary school in San Francisco and received a Jesuit education from Santa Clara University and the University of San Francisco law school. He briefly played football for the Seattle Seahawks before law school. He said in a previous interview that he began coming out as gay about five years ago.

During the hearing, retired Court of Appeal Justice William R. McGuiness said Jenkins had a journey of “acceptance and authenticity and living his truth and about being African American and gay.”

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“Martin Jenkins knows and will not forget what it means to struggle and to be an outsider,” he said.

Retired U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, a Carter appointee who served alongside Jenkins on the San Francisco-based federal court, said judges there lauded him for his tireless dedication.

“Marty, we felt, if not the hardest-working man in the judiciary, certainly was the hardest-working man on our court,” said Henderson.

Jenkins’ father was a city employee who worked as a clerk and janitor. The judge said he helped his dad clean offices. His mother was a nurse who stayed home to care for her family.

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After obtaining his law degree, Jenkins became a deputy district attorney in Alameda County and later went on to work at the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division, where he prosecuted white supremacists for hate crimes. He returned from Washington, D.C., to California when his mother became ill, and after a stint working for Pacific Bell, he started his judicial career.

After his confirmation, Jenkins praised friends and colleagues and introduced his family. Finally, he mentioned his partner, Sydney Shand, a Southern California real estate broker.

Pausing and removing his glasses to wipe his eyes, Jenkins said he had friends with wonderful, supportive relationships and figured for years that was one gift that might elude him, “in part, because of the struggle I had with accepting who I was.”

“Now,” he said, “I understand what people who are [in] loving, caring relationships really have. I’ve experienced it. Thank you, Sydney.”

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Jenkins will be the second member of the current court to live in Los Angeles County. The three members of the commission that confirmed him are Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and Justice J. Anthony Kline of the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Jenkins fills a vacancy left by the August retirement of Justice Ming W. Chin, who served more than two decades on the state high court and whose term ends in 2022. After that, Jenkins will stand unopposed for confirmation by voters on the statewide ballot. Associate justices earn $261,949 a year.


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