'For All Those People Who Wondered If They Could': Black Women Judges Make History in Texas

On New Year’s Day, as we all said our final fuck off to 2018, 17 black women judges were sworn in in Texas’s Harris County. The judges, many of whom ran on criminal justice reform platforms, are taking office in a political landscape where the Trump administration is stacking federal courts with conservatives and Republicans are actively suppressing people of color’s voting rights.

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The incoming judges highlighted a focus on creating equal opportunities. Incoming judge Latosha Lewis Payne told KHOU 11 that she is “looking into making sure that every person who has a legal case, has an equal opportunity for justice,” while incoming judge Erica Hughes highlighted concerns about the plight of low-level offenders who can’t afford bail or attorneys.

In 2018, Harris County, which includes Houston, had the largest voter turnout ever recorded in the county. Incoming Judge Angela Graves-Harrington told KHOU that she wanted to see judges who reflected the county’s diversity, which is 42 percent Hispanic and 20 percent black. “I also wanted to serve as an inspiration for all those people who wondered if they could,” Graves-Harrington said. “Yes you can.”

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While Democrats were crushed after progressive Beto O’Rourke narrowly lost a senate bid to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz, on election night, the Harris County Democrats were reveling in “Black Girl Magic,” the slogan under which 19 black women lawyers and judges ran after they realized they were all running against Republican incumbents. “To a large degree, our local races are probably more important than voting for a president,” incoming family court judge Germaine Tanner, one of the women in the photo, told Jezebel in November. “It’s a new time in the history of Harris County.”

The judges, all Democrats, range in age from 31 to early 60s, the New York Times reported, and will serve “four-year terms in the civil, criminal, family and probate courts.” (The Times notes that the two women in the photo who lost bids for statewide office will keep their seats as county judges). Voters also elected 27-year-old Colombian immigrant Lina Hidalgo, a progressive, as the county executive, ousting a Republican incumbent.

Fuck yeah, Harris County. 

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.

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DISCUSSION

tridenttropicaltwistornothing
TridentTropicalTwistOrNothing

I was one of those that traveled from out of state to Houston to help canvass for Beto. I was absolutely crushed when he didn’t win, especially after putting in months of volunteer work prior to election day. I have been trying hard not to be discouraged, and a reminder that there were a lot of down-ballot wins is uplifting.

A lot of volunteers spent countless hours to get people to turn out to vote in Houston, and seeing that reflected in these judges getting elected really inspires me - and reminds me to keep fighting.