Since we now have a Black judge on The SUPREME COURT who is now a MUTE, I thought I’d take today’s Black History moment to remember back when Black Judges had to be qualified and actually know how to discuss the law, and had meaningful, substantive careers before being appointed to the bench.
First up,William H. Hastie
William Henry Hastie, Jr. (November 17, 1904 – April 14, 1976) was an American, lawyer, judge, educator, public official, and advocate for the civil rights of African Americans. He was the first African-American to serve as Governor of the United States Virgin Islands, as a Federal judge, and as a Federal appellate judge.
Hastie was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of William Henry Hastie, Sr. and Roberta Childs. Hastie graduated first in his class, magna cum laude from Amherst College in Massachusetts, then earned a doctorate in juridical studies from Harvard Law School. He then became a professor at Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. One of his students there was future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He also served as assistant solicitor for the Department of the Interior, advising the agency on racial issues.
In 1937, President Roosevelt appointed Hastie to the United States District Court for the Virgin Islands, making Hastie the first African-American Federal judge. This was a controversial move: Senator William H. King of Utah, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee called Hastie’s appointment a “blunder.”
Hastie served as a judge for two years. In 1939, he resigned from the court to become the Dean of the Howard University School of Law, where he had previously taught.
During World War II, Hastie worked as a civilian aide to the Secretary of War Henry Stimson. He vigorously advocated the equal treatment of African Americans in the Army and their unrestricted use in the war effort.
In 1943, Hastie resigned his position in protest against racially segregated training facilities in the Army Air Force, inadequate training for African-American pilots, and the unequal distribution of assignments between whites and non-whites. That same year, he received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, both for his lifetime achievements and in recognition of this protest action.
This was expected to be the end of his government career. But in 1946, President Truman appointed Hastie territorial Governor of the U. S. Virgin Islands—the first African-American to hold this position. Hastie served as Governor from 1946 to 1949.
In 1949, Truman appointed Hastie to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit—the first African-American appellate judge. Hastie served on the Appellate Court for 22 years.
As the first and most distinguished African-American on the Federal bench, Hastie was considered as a possible candidate to be the first African-America Justice of the Supreme Court.
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy considered appointing Hastie to succeed retiring Justice Charles Whittaker. But political calculations prevented Kennedy from making the appointment. On the one hand, an African-American appointee would have faced fierce opposition in the Senate from Southerners such as James Eastland (D-Mississippi), chairman of the Judiciary Committee. On the other hand, on issues other than civil rights, Hastie was considered relatively conservative, and Chief Justice Earl Warren reportedly opined that Hastie would be too conservative as a Justice. Kennedy appointed Byron White instead.
Kennedy remarked that he expected to make several more appointments to the Court in his presidency and that he intended to appoint Hastie to the Court at a later date.
In 1968, Hastie became Chief Judge of the Third Circuit. In 1971, after only three years, he stepped down as Chief Judge, and also took “senior status”.
Constance Baker Motley
Civil Rights Attorney, Lawmaker, Judge
Constance Baker Motley was born on September 14, 1921 in New Haven, Connecticut, the ninth of 12 children born to parents who had emigrated from the island of Nevis in the West Indies. Her pioneering career as a civil rights lawyer, lawmaker and judge spanned six decades and was highlighted by numerous historic achievements, including becoming the first African American woman accepted at Columbia Law School, the first African American woman elected to the New York Senate, the first woman and the first black woman to hold the position of Manhattan Borough President, and the first African American woman appointed to serve as a federal district judge.
Judge Motley attended New Haven’s integrated public schools and became an avid reader at an early age. Inspired by her reading about civil rights heroes, she decided that she wanted to be a lawyer at age 15 and was determined to do so despite the financial, racial, and gender barriers confronting her. After graduating from high school with honors, she worked as a maid for a short time and then took a job with the National Youth Administration. One evening she gave a speech at the local Community House in which she urged that black members be given more control over the facility. A wealthy white philanthropist, Clarence Blakeslee, the grandson of abolitionists, was so impressed with her presentation that he offered to pay for her education. With Blakeslee’s financial support, Judge Motley attended Fisk University, and then transferred to New York University where she received a bachelor’s degree in economics. She was accepted at Columbia University Law School in 1944 and graduated in 1946.
In 1948, she began a 16-year as a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, serving as a key attorney in many of the major legal challenges of the civil rights era, including dozens of school desegregation challenges. She was the only woman on the legal team in the historic legal challenge to school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. She was lead counsel for James Meredith in his successful battle to gain admission to University of Mississippi. She argued ten cases to the United States Supreme Court, winning nine of them.
In 1964, Judge Motley was elected to the New York State Senate and subsequently served as Manhattan’s Borough President. In January 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her to United States District Court for the Southern District of New York court. In 1982, she became the first female chief judge of that court. Her many rulings included a case that allowed female reporters to enter locker rooms at Yankee stadium and another that upheld the right of gay protestors to march in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Judge Motley died of congestive heart failure on September 28, 2005 at age 84. Although she had assumed senior status as a judge in 1986, handling a reduced caseload, she continued her work until her death. She was survived by her husband, Joel Wilson Motley whom she married in 1949, one son Joel Motley, 3d, and several siblings.
As you go through your day, don’t forget JJP.
Drop those links. Engage in debate. Give us trivia and gossip too.
And always, have a peaceful day.
Cheryl Contee aka "Jill Tubman", Baratunde Thurston aka "Jack Turner", rikyrah, Leutisha Stills aka "The Christian Progressive Liberal", B-Serious, Casey Gane-McCalla, Jonathan Pitts-Wiley aka "Marcus Toussaint," Fredric Mitchell
Special Contributors: James Rucker, Rinku Sen, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Adam Luna, Kamala Harris
Technical Contributor: Brandon Sheats