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California’s Supreme Court Seats Its First Queer Woman of Color

Written by Olivia Cruz MayedaPublished Jan. 03, 2023 • 5:30pm
Judge Kelli Evans (middle) smiles after speaking during a public hearing to consider her selection to the California Supreme Court on Nov. 10, 2022. | Jeff Chiu/AP Photo/Pool

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Justice Kelli Evans officially received her robes at the state’s capital on Monday, making her both the first openly queer woman and first queer woman of color to serve on the California State Supreme Court.

Evans, whose confirmation hearing took place in November, had previously sat on Alameda County’s Superior Court, which had the highest number of LGBTQ+ judges of any Northern California county at the time.

Now, Evans fills the vacancy left by Justice Patricia Guerrero, and will serve alongside fellow queer Black Justice Martin J. Jenkins.

Judge Kelli Evans speaks during a public hearing to consider her selection to the California Supreme Court on Nov. 10, 2022. | Jeff Chiu/AP Photo/Pool

“I recognize in moving from the trial court to our state’s highest court, I have a steep learning curve, and it is one I would relish to climb,” she said during her confirmation hearing.

Before her time on the Alameda court, Evans served as Gov. Newsom’s chief deputy legal affairs secretary.

“It is an incredible privilege to be part of harnessing the power and authority of government to try and make the California dream a reality for everyone,” Evans said while working as a deputy legal affairs secretary for Newsom.

The new justice has an extensive credentialed background in government, as well as for nonprofits and the private sector. After graduating from the UC Davis School of Law in the mid-1990s, Evans worked for the Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office, the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Department of Justice, a private law firm and under former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Judge Kelli Evans (right) sits with her wife, Terri Shaw (middle), and their daughter, Kaden Evans-Shaw (left), during a public hearing to consider Evans’ selection to the California Supreme Court on Nov. 10, 2022. | Jeff Chiu/AP Photo/Pool

In the early 2000s, Evans served on a federal monitoring team that oversaw the Oakland Police Department and later helped pass Stephon Clark’s Law, named for the Sacramento man killed by police in 2018.

Evans, who grew up in Denver but now lives in Oakland with her high school sweetheart and their daughter, told The Los Angeles Blade she deeply appreciates the grandmother who raised her and “all those who came before us who made it possible for a queer Black girl from the projects to be where I am today. 

“I wouldn’t have been a justice if it weren’t for my grandmother,” Evans added.

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