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Honoring Oregon’s First Black Female Supreme Court Justice Adrienne Nelson

Our law firm’s blog frequently posts stories about injustice. Today we take great pleasure in profiling Oregon’s first black female Supreme Court Justice.

Oregon Supreme Court Justice Adrienne Nelson recently received the honor of having a new high school being named after her. This title came at the end of a controversial, yet innovative process that took place between 2018-2019.

In 2018, Nelson had made history by being appointed as the very first Black person to be named to serve on the Oregon Supreme Court. This is the highest standing court in the state, and after the 158 years of the Supreme Court’s existence, this was a groundbreaking feat. Having taken this new title, and at the beginning of her six-year term, Nelson was given the opportunity to have her name used as a possible candidate for a new and upcoming high school within the North Clackamas School District. However, the school board voted against using her name.

This situation brought older memories of discrimination to the surface, reminding Nelson of the unfair treatment she had faced as a teenager in her own school system. In Nelson’s senior year of high school, she had become the top of her class, yet was not named valedictorian, apparently because of her race. Nelson’s mother, who had been a teacher at the time, hired a civil rights lawyer and threatened to sue the school district for allowing this discriminatory behavior. Due to this action, Nelson was finally named valedictorian, but the initial act of racial stereotyping caused by her school system had never left her mind.

Despite the voting setback, the following year on May 9th of 2019, and after a school board change, a new voting process was passed, and Nelson’s name was chosen. Because of the unfairness Nelson had faced in her past, and because of the new opportunities that arose due to this newfound board decision, Nelson accepted this honor as recognition that the community was taking a strong stand that in favor of every student being able to achieve their full worth and potential.

Adrienne C. Nelson High School is opening its doors in the Fall of 2021. Justice Nelson has been involved in the construction and future of this community, as well as what it can bring to Oregon. Let us join Justice Nelson in working to create a world where every student can excel, regardless of their race or their gender.

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