Senate Confirms First Black Woman to Become Federal Judge in Oregon

by Xara Aziz
U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee

A Kansas City native is charting a new path for women of color after she has officially become the first Black woman to become a federal judge in the state of Oregon.

President Joe Biden tapped Adrienne Nelson to be nominated to the post last year. In February the U.S. Senate confirmed Nelson to the role in a 52-46 vote.

“I approach each case with an open mind and treat everyone fairly, impartially because to the litigants their case is the most important case in the world,” Nelson told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing in October. “I try to communicate all decisions clearly so that they can be understood. And if I’m so fortunate to be confirmed, I would continue to do that.”

Nelson graduated from the University of Arkansas and was awarded a law degree from the University of Texas. She then relocated to Portland where she began her professional journey as a contract attorney and public defender.

She was then hired as a senior attorney in Student Legal and Mediation Services for Portland State University and served as an adjunct professor at Lewis & Clark Law School from 2002 to 2005. She has currently served as a member of the American Bar Association House of Delegates and the ABA Commission on Disability Rights. She has won the Oregon Women Lawyers (OWLs) Judge Mercedes Deiz Award and the Oregon State Bar President’s Public Service Award. Furthermore, she served as president of the Multnomah Bar Foundation and president of the Oregon State Bar Foundation Board.

After a successful run in her roles and receiving numerous awards, Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed Nelson to the Multnomah County Circuit Court, where she served as a judge for more than 10 years.

Reflecting on her illustrious career, Nelson said she give thanks to her ancestors for getting her to today.

“I would like to acknowledge the spirits of my late father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and dear friends who are no longer with us here on earth, but who are always with me,” Nelson said. “I feel their presence in the room today. I hope to make everyone proud.”

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