Black women in law feel pride and frustration ahead of court appointment

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In the hours following the announcement of Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s retirement, Angela Groves, a civil rights lawyer in Washington, and her mother, Emanuella Groves, an appellate judge in Ohio, feverishly exchanged text messages about the opening of the Supreme Court.

Although the two didn’t have time to talk at length — they planned to have a long chat this weekend — they sent each other links to articles about potential nominees.

“When Barack Hussein Obama was elected, it seemed impossible,” said Judge Groves, 63. saying no and being able to do it cleverly, so we can start changing the needle to improve the administration of justice.

Young Ms Groves, 32, thanked her parents, both lawyers, for teaching her about social justice and planting the seed she could follow in their career footsteps. She attended law school at New York University, where she was one of approximately 60 black students.

That experience stood in stark contrast to that of her mother, who was elected to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth District of Ohio in 2020 after serving as a Cleveland Municipal Court trial judge for 18 years. When she studied at Case Western Reserve School of Law in Cleveland in the late 1970s, she was one of less than a dozen black students and among a handful of black women. She hadn’t grown up around lawyers and never imagined she would become a judge.

“I didn’t think it was within my reach,” she said, adding that her husband, whom she met in law school, had stood up for her throughout his career. While in law school, she was next door to Sara J. Harper, a former prosecutor and appellate judge who was the first African-American woman to graduate from Case Western Law School. But if only she had known more black women practicing law, Judge Groves said of her college years.

Young Ms Groves said it was also important to her that the new judge, as a Democratic appointee, was a liberal.

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