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Colorado’s Governor Has Appointed A Record-Breaking Number of Black Women Judges

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has appointed five Black women to the statewide bench in less than two years, something his 42 predecessors didn’t do combined.

Polis, who took office in January 2019, appointed Frances Johnson for the 4th Judicial District Court in Colorado Springs in October 2019. The appointment made Johnson the first Black woman appointed to a district court position of general jurisdiction.

A month later, Polis appointed Nikea Bland, who became the first Black woman appointed to a Denver district court of general jurisdiction.

“It’s 2020, and there shouldn’t be any Black firsts left, but here we are,” Bland, a former public defender and private practice defense attorney told Essence. “I’m just glad to see we are finally moving forward. It’s progress.”

This February, Polis tapped Pax Moultrie for the Denver Juvenile Court and in April selected Samorreyan “Sam” Burney to the 4th Judicial District County Court in Colorado Springs. Jill Dorancy was appointed a district court judge in July.

“This is the kind of leadership that really gives you hope,” Dorancy said. “I’m honored and humbled to have been appointed by a governor who is committed to ensuring diversity on the bench.”

Polis said in a statement that he is committed to building a Colorado for all and that includes representation of everyone.

“I am honored to appoint several highly qualified and dedicated Black women to serve in Colorado’s judicial branch—it’s about time! I am committed to building a Colorado for all, which is why we need more people of color in positions of leadership and represented in our government, in order to truly reflect our community,” Polis said.

The appointments are seen as a refreshing surprise considering the state is 84% white and has a 4% Black population. Black female judges have previously been few and far between in the state. Colorado’s previous Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed just two Black women to the bench during his eight years in office.

However, Moultrie believes diversity happens when people in leadership roles embrace talent instead of looking at color.

“It’s not the first place that people from outside the state would think of as diverse,” Moultrie, a former county attorney who previously clerked for two justices said. “This is an example of what happens when people in leadership positions embrace and value diverse talent. If it can happen here in Colorado, it can happen anywhere!”

“We’re qualified, we add value, and we’re a benefit to the system—not just by our presence but because of the diverse experiences, backgrounds and perspectives that we all bring. “We’re five Black women, but we each bring something different to the table. Aside from the fact that we’re enhancing inclusivity and diversity in the state’s judiciary, we all deserve to be here.” Johnson said. “It’s difficult for a society, for a community, to claim that the legal system is fair when people go in front of judges and don’t see the makeup of the community reflected there.

“I think Governor Polis is very much aware of that. So I think it’s a positive thing—not only his awareness but also his commitment to leading change. It not only reflects his mind-set but also that of our state,” Johnson added.

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