Lisa Holder White becomes first Black woman on Illinois Supreme Court

A 54-year-old Republican, Holder White has sat on the bench for 21 years, beginning as a Macon County associate circuit judge.

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The first Black woman to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court was sworn in Thursday, celebrating the event as recognition of the “undeniable value and merit” women and people of color can offer.

Lisa Holder White, formerly a 4th District State Appellate Court justice, took the oath to replace the retiring Justice Rita Garman, who was the state’s longest-serving active judge.

Lisa Holder White is sworn in as a justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois by First District Supreme Court of Illinois Justice Mary Jane Theis during White’s installation ceremony Thursday at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. (Photo: Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register via AP)

A 54-year-old Republican from Decatur, Holder White has sat on the bench for 21 years, beginning as an associate circuit judge in Macon County in 2001 with an oath administered by Garman.

In remarks at the ceremony in the Union Theater of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Holder White said that during a recent visit to the museum, she viewed one of the original copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared Black slaves free when Lincoln issued it in 1863.

“My heritage is a heritage that once involved minds and bodies that were shackled, and doors that were so, so long closed,” Holder White said. “Taking my oath in this place today… recognizes the undeniable value and merit of what I as a Black woman… have to contribute to the work of our state’s highest court…. It is a testimony to the notion that as women and people of color, we need not limit our dreams or settle for less because when we prepare ourselves, doors will open.”

Garman, 78, who first donned the jurist’s black robe 48 1/2 years ago, had been expected to seek a third, 10-year term on the Supreme Court in the November election before abruptly tendering her resignation in May. By delaying her departure until after the June 28 primary election, she spared Holder White from campaigning this fall. The vacancy’s future will be put to the voters at the 2024 election.

Holder White’s inauguration comes just a week after the U.S. Supreme Court welcomed its first Black woman, Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The Illinois high court’s first Black member was Charles Freeman, who served from 1990 to 2018. The first woman was Mary Ann McMorrow, elected in 1992. With her assumption of the role of chief justice in 2002, McMorrow became the first woman to lead any of the state’s three branches of government. She retired in 2006.

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