Trailblazer Adrienne Nelson is the first Black woman to become a federal judge in Oregon

Abu Mubarik August 21, 2023
OPB Screenshot from a video feed, Hon. Adrienne C. Nelson testifies during a nomination hearing before the United States Senate

Meet Adrienne Nelson; she is a veteran jurist and the first Black woman jurist in Oregon to become a federal judge. Before her elevation, she was the first Black woman to sit on the Oregon Supreme Court.

She also served for more than a decade as a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge. Also, she worked in private practice, serving as a public defender for Multnomah Defenders Inc., one of two nonprofit public defense firms in Portland.

Her nomination was confirmed by the US Senate this past February in a 52 to 46 vote bipartisan vote. She was nominated by President Joe Biden last summer and at her hearing for the federal post last October, she told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee she is open and fair-minded.

“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. 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 said, according to OPB.ORG.

A native of Kansas City, Nelson found her way into legal profession early, when her mother sued her school to permit her to be the school’s valedictorian, instead of a white student with a lower GPA who was initially selected. She subsequently graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and earned a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. 

She moved to Portland after graduation to work as a contract attorney and then as a public defender. Three years later, she joined Bennett, Hardman, Morris & Kaplan LLP before Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed her to the Multnomah County Circuit Court. She also worked as an adjunct professor at Lewis & Clark Law School from 2002-05.

Her illustrious career as a jurist has seen her receive several awards. She was named a Woman of Influence by the Portland Business Journal and a Woman of Achievement by the Oregon Commission on Women, according to Texas Law.

Also, in 2019, Texas Law’s Thurgood Marshall Legal Society presented her with the Loftus C. Carson II Trailblazer Award. In 2021, the North Clackamas School District named Adrienne C. Nelson High School in her honor.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 21, 2023


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