Where We Live: Nelson makes history in Supreme Court


SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — On Monday, the country will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a celebration for one of history’s greatest civil rights leader.

King’s legacy, and his impact, is being realized here, where we live, through Adrienne Nelson, who was recently sworn in as the first African-American State Supreme Court Justice in Oregon’s history.

“It’s a really proud moment,” Nelson said after she was sworn in to her new position. “I mean, the historical context is not lost on me.

“I have always been a proud African-American woman. I draw strength from our history — the resiliency, the strength.”

 Adrienne Nelson is the first African-American in Oregon’s Supreme Court. (KOIN)[/caption]

Nelson, now one of 7 justices in Oregon’s Supreme Court, grew up in Arkansas and earned a law degree from the University of Texas before moving to Oregon in the mid-90s. She’s moved from public defender, to a lawyer in a private practice, to a senior attorney at Portland State University before Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed her to the Multnomah County Circuit Court in 2006.

Now, Nelson is heading to Salem, moving into Oregon’s Supreme Court. Oregon Governor Kate Brown said Nelson’s perspective moves Oregon closer to a shared vision for justice for all. Nelson acknowledges that, saying she knows people think she’s a “real people person.”

“But I’m a nerd,” she said. “I love the law. I love the rule of law. I love reading cases.”

Nelson’s experience with law started early. Nelson said she earned valedictorian at her Arkansas High School, but the district tried to change the rules so the honor wouldn’t go to a black student. Nelson’s mother, a teacher, hired a lawyer. Eventually, Nelson got her valedictorian award.

“I learned very acutely that people had issues around race,” Nelson said. “But that I wanted to work, in whatever community I lived in to try to bring us all together around a variety of issues- and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Now, that’s what she’ll do in Oregon’s Supreme Court, even if her mother originally wanted her to follow a different career path.

“My mother’s happy about it now — not so much then,” Nelson said. “She wanted a doctor!”

Adrienne Nelson is the first African-American in Oregon’s Supreme Court. (KOIN)[/caption]

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