Governor Brown appoints new Supreme Court justice

Adrienne Nelson is first African-American on court

SALEM, Ore. - (Update: Quote from magazine interview)

Governor Brown announced Tuesday that she will appoint Adrienne C. Nelson, a trial judge in Multnomah County, to the Oregon Supreme Court. She will be the first African American to serve on an appellate court in Oregon and the second woman of color to serve on the Oregon Supreme Court.

“Judge Nelson brings to our highest court an important, new voice and wealth of experience she has gained in twelve years on the trial bench," Brown said. "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 will fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Jack Landau. The appointment is effective immediately.

In an interview with Portland Monthly magazine, Nelson said when she moved to Oregon in 1994, people were honest about the fact that there's not a lot of diversity in the state. Nelson said the conversation of race is so uncomfortable that people decide not to deal with it. Then she added: "We all have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable."

Nelson was appointed to the Multnomah County Circuit Court by Governor Ted Kulongoski in 2006. She earlier worked at Portland State University as a senior attorney and coordinator of Student Legal and Mediation Services, from 2004 to 2006. Prior to that, she worked at the Portland firm Bennett, Hartman, Morris and Kaplan, LLP, from 1999 to 2004.

Nelson began her legal career as a public defender at Multnomah Defenders, Inc., from 1996 to 1999. Judge Nelson grew up in Arkansas, and attended the University of Arkansas for college and University of Texas for law school.

Nelson’s first exposure to the legal system was in high school, when her mother sued her school district in Gurdon, Arkansas for refusing to permit an African American student to be recognized as valedictorian. Judge Nelson was ultimately named valedictorian.

Nelson 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 State Delegate and has served on various committees including the Commission on Disability Rights and the Committee on Public Education.

She is board chair 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.

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