Representation and Justice: Black Women Serving in the Judiciary

with Sabriya I. Williams and Kim Tignor of She Will Rise

A 2022 analysis found that 70 of the nearly 4,000 people who have ever served as federal judges in the United States have been Black women.

Sabriya I. Williams and Kim Tignor, co-founders of She Will Rise, join host Tetiana Anderson to discuss advocacy efforts to advance representation of Black and Brown communities in the federal judicial system.

Posted on:

January 30, 2023

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: In February 2022, President Joe Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve as the 116th associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. She became the first Black woman to serve on the high court. But the work done in preparation for this milestone was in motion much earlier. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. She Will Rise was founded in 2020 with the goal of getting a Black woman on the Supreme Court. The organization is now turning its focus to the federal judiciary system, where only 70 of the almost 4,000 people who ever served were Black women. And joining me to talk about all of this are Sabriya Williams and Kim Tignor. They are co-founders of She Will Rise. Ladies, thank you so much for being here.

Williams: Thank you so much for having us.

Tignor: Thanks for having us.

Anderson: So, you achieved your signature mission and now you are turning your attention to the federal judiciary system. What are your plans?

Tignor: I mean, so that's exactly right. We have always had the federal judiciary at top of mind and really paying attention to pushing the needle and increasing the number of Black women that are sitting on the bench. And that is paying attention not only to the vacant seats that we now have on the federal judiciary, but then also thinking about all of the pipelines, right? So we're looking at the diversity of law clerks, we're looking at the diversity of prosecutors, we are looking at the diversity of public defenders -- all now natural, viable pipelines to the federal judiciary. And not -- and I don't want to ignore the importance of keeping an eye on the diversity of our law clerks that are sitting on the Supreme Court. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson came from former Justice Breyer. She was one of his law clerks. And that is an incredibly important pipeline.

Anderson: So, we know that the Federal Judiciary Center has been watching these numbers for years. And that organization says that fewer than 2% of federal judges in the U.S.have been Black women. What is this about? I mean, is this a lack of qualified candidates? Is it something else?

Williams: Oh, it's definitely something else. I mean, we know that there are qualified candidates. When Judge Brown was in the nomination process, there were several. I mean, she was not on a short list. There was a long list. So I think it's a matter of hoping that we are now going to be able to see each other in these spaces, realize that, okay, we were able to break the glass ceiling, as it were, and the floodgates should hopefully open. That's, you know, the dream, right? The reality is that it's going to be a slow process because this was a slow process, but hoping that it's made a little faster by her being -- being on the judiciary.

Anderson: So, how much headway would you say that Black women have made in the whole federal judiciary system today?

Tignor: So, you know, there has been so much history made. However, there's still a lot of history that we need to keep making, and still so many courts. I feel like folks are always surprised just by how many courts have yet to have their first judge, their first Black woman judge, their first Black judge. It's so many different firsts that we're still working to have. But we do celebrate this administration's ability to make good on that promise. And, you know, we are also excited about having a Senate in place that's going to be able to keep putting these exceptional judges onto the court.

Anderson: So, what lessons would you say that each of you learned in the process of getting Justice Brown on the court that you will use and implement in the future when it comes to sort of changing the game for Black women and representation on courts across the country?

Williams: So, as the non-lawyer of the group, I think I learned a lot. And it is about not just the high court, right? It's about the judiciary as a whole and making that plain and making folks understand why it's important. To get to the Supreme Court, there are a lot of steps. There are a lot of courts you have to go to, go through. And so we have to let people know that this is, you know... So, I guess that was -- that's the lesson, that we need to let folks know that it's a bigger game than the judiciary, than the Supreme Court.

Anderson: And speaking of letting folks know, what is your website? I know people are going to want to have a look at it.

Tignor: It's www.sistascotus -- S-I-S-T-A, SCOTUS, S-C-O-T-U-S -- dot org.

Anderson: Sabriya Williams, Kim Tignor of She Will Rise, thank you both for being here.

Williams: Thank you so much for having us.

Tignor: Thanks for having us.

Anderson: And thanks to you for watching as well. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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