Inspiration for Judges: Pathways to the Bench

As we bid farewell to Women’s History month, let’s look to the future of the court, and open up April with an inspiring talk by U.S. District Court Judge Julie A. Robinson, of Topeka, Kansas.

Robinson, a fourth generation Kansan and African American woman, grew up in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and at a time when most of her other female peers were discouraged from attending college. She credits her career to her parents’ encouragement when she decided at age five to become a lawyer. “I didn’t have that kind of discouragement from my family at all. From the very beginning, it was, ‘You want to be a lawyer? You’re going to be a lawyer.’”

After earning her undergraduate and Juris Doctor degrees from the University of Kansas and completing a two-year clerkship, her boss encouraged her to move on to lawyering, saying that, “this is not the type of position you would be happy doing for many years or for a career”. She agreed, and eventually found herself going far beyond her childhood dream by becoming a District Court Judge, and the first African American named to the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.

“When my grandmother told me that story [of the first black woman to be invited to the White House as a guest], “ she says, reflecting on her confirmation hearings at the White House, “I never could have forseen myself doing something like that.”

Her big take-home message to the youngsters?

“You know, you never can dream big enough sometimes. I think you can be overly cocky and confident as a kid, yet you still never really know what’s in store for you. You just need to make sure that you are ready, and positioned, and able, and willing to accept all that comes your way.”

It’s a heartening thought, not just for judges or prospective lawyers, but also to anyone unsure of their potential, particularly if they belong to one or more systemically oppressed minorities.

Watch the full video here:

Feeling inspired? The United States Courts site has an entire series on it, with stories of judges achieving their dreams while dealing with obstacles such as racism, sexism, multiple sclerosis, and polio.

What led you to your current career path? Whom do you credit for your successes?