On December 1, 2010, President Obama nominated Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, age 60, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Judge Donald is currently a United States District Judge in the Western District of Tennessee. She has been a federal judge for more than 20 years, and has almost 30 years of judicial experience. Judge Donald was elected to her first judicial position as a judge in the criminal division of the Court of General Sessions in Shelby County in 1982, making her the first female African-American judge in Tennessee history. She also became the nation’s first female African-American bankruptcy judge in 1988. President Obama has commended Judge Donald for her “outstanding commitment to public service,” both before and during her time on the bench, and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has praised her “considerable” professional credentials and her “extraordinary record of community service and personal achievement.”
Judge Donald was born in DeSoto County, Mississippi in 1951. She became one of the first students to integrate Olive Brach High School in the1960s, and went on to graduate from Memphis State University (now University of Memphis) in 1974 and the Memphis State University Cecil B. Humphreys School of Law (now the University of Memphis Cecil B. Humphreys School of Law) in 1979.
Judge Donald has had long and varied legal experience that includes private practice, public service, and legal academia. After graduating from law school, she opened a private law practice in Memphis and began teaching at Shelby State Community College. Soon thereafter she became a staff attorney with the Memphis Area Legal Services and then an Assistant Public Defender with the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office. In 1982 she was elected to the criminal division of the Shelby County General Sessions Court, making her the first female African-American judge in Tennessee history. She soon added a professorship at the University of Memphis School of Law, where she taught courses in legal research and professional responsibility. In 1988, she was appointed a United States Bankruptcy Judge for the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Tennessee, making her the first female African-American bankruptcy judge in the nation. President Clinton nominated Judge Donald to her current position on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee in 1996.
Professional and Academic Activities
Over the course of her career, Judge Donald has been affiliated with dozens of professional, business, and charitable groups. She has been extensively involved with the American Bar Association, serving as the Vice-Chair of the Bankruptcy Committee, a member of the ABA Journal Board of Editors, and as a member of the Business Law Section. She has been a member of the Executive Committee of the ABA Board of Governors since 2004, as well a member of dozens of ABA task forces and commissions over the years. She has been Vice-President of the American Bar Foundation since 2008 and has also been a member of the Board of Governors of the Tennessee bar Association. Judge Donald has also authored a number of academic works, on topics ranging from family law to criminal justice to judicial administration. Most significantly, she authored a 2005 study for the American Bar Association on the impact of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, a 2001 comparison of U.S., German, and Chinese trial practices, and co-authored a 2000 study of the summary judgment process.
Judge Donald holds an honorary doctorate of law from Suffolk University, and has been inducted into the African-American Hall of Fame. She has been awarded the Spirit of Excellence Award by the ABA Committee on Diversity and the Presidential Achievement Award by the National Bar Association. She has also been awarded the Civil Rights Trailblazer Award by the University of Tennessee Civil Rights Symposium and has received dozens of other awards over the course of her career from bar associations, universities, churches, civil rights organizations, and other groups.