Oregon's federal judges hear cases in the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland. (Photo by Steve Morgan/Wikimedia Commons)

Oregon Supreme Court Justice Adrienne Nelson, the first Black judge on the state’s high court, could soon become the first Black female federal judge in Oregon. Adrienne Nelson (Courtesy of Gov. Kate Brown’s office)

President Joe Biden on Thursday named Nelson as one of four new federal judicial nominees. The White House said in a statement that Nelson and the rest of his slate “continue to fulfill the President’s promise to ensure that the nation’s courts reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country — both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds.”

Adrienne Nelson (Photo courtesy of Gov. Kate Brown’s office)

Nelson, 55, has served on the Oregon Supreme Court since 2018. She spent the prior 12 years as a trial judge on the Multnomah County Circuit Court. 

Before she became a judge, Nelson was a senior attorney for Portland State University, a public defender and in private practice at Portland-based labor law firm Bennett Hartman, then known as Bennett, Hartman, Morris & Kaplan. 

Nelson’s law degree is from the University of Texas at Austin and her bachelor’s is from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. 

Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley praised Nelson’s nomination in a joint statement. The Senate confirms or rejects the president’s nominees for federal judgeships. 

“Justice Nelson is extremely well-qualified for this federal judgeship, combining her experience on Oregon’s highest court and previous trial judge tenure in Multnomah County with service as a public defender and mediator,” they said. “We eagerly look forward to helping this outstanding nominee advance through the Senate confirmation process.”

When Gov. Kate Brown appointed Nelson to the Oregon Supreme Court in 2018, she was the first Black judge and second woman of color on the state’s high court. At the time, Brown said Nelson would bring “an important, new voice and wealth of experience” to the court. 

Nelson first experienced the legal system in high school, when she had the highest grade point average in her class but her high school in Gurdon, Arkansas, wouldn’t allow an African-American student to be recognized as valedictorian, according to Brown’s office. Nelson’s mother sued the school district and Nelson was named valedictorian. 

A Happy Valley high school that opened last year was named for Nelson. 


Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.