SALEM — Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Adrienne Nelson will be the first African-American to serve on the Oregon Supreme Court.
Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that she has appointed Nelson to succeed Justice Jack L. Landau, who retired last year.
Nelson will be the second woman of color to serve on the state’s highest court, after Justice Lynn Nakamoto, who was appointed in late 2015.
“Judge Nelson brings to our highest court an important, new voice and wealth of experience she has gained in 12 years on the trial bench,” Brown said in a statement. “In addition to her work in the courtroom, she has made extraordinary strides to make the trial bench more receptive to the needs and experiences of diverse and underserved communities in our state. Judge Nelson is a widely respected civil rights champion, whose perspective on the bench moves us closer to our shared vision of justice for all.”
Nelson’s interest in law began when she was prohibited from serving as valedictorian at her high school in Gurdon, Arkansas, because of her race. Her mother sued the school district, opening the way for Nelson to be named valedictorian, according to Brown’s spokesman, Chris Pair.
Nelson was appointed to Multnomah County Circuit Court by former Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2006. She worked as a senior attorney and coordinator of Student Legal and Mediation Services at Portland State University from 2004 to 2006. She joined Portland State from a private Portland law firm, Bennett, Hartman, Morris and Kaplan LLP, where she practiced from 1999 to 2004. She launched her legal career as a public defender at Multnomah Defenders Inc. in 1996 before joining the private firm.
Nelson grew up in Arkansas, where she stayed to earn her undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas. She earned her law degree from the University of Texas.
She has received the Multnomah Bar Association’s Award of Merit and the Oregon State Bar’s Diversity and Inclusion Award. She is active in the American Bar Association, where she is the Oregon delegate and has served on several state committees, including the Commission on Disability Rights and the Committee on Public Education. She is board chairperson of Self Enhancement Inc. and sits on the Oregon Community Foundation Metropolitan Portland Leadership Council, the Reed College Board of Trustees and the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars Advisory Board. She has served as president of Queen’s Bench, the Portland chapter of Oregon Women Lawyers, and as an adjunct professor at Lewis and Clark Law School.