Justice Melody Stewart’s investiture ceremony was more than simply a celebration as she became the Ohio Supreme Court’s 161st justice. It was an emotional breakthrough for her as the first African-American woman elected to the state’s court of last resort.
Hundreds of people came from across the country to witness in person – while thousands more watched remotely – as Justice Melody J. Stewart took an oath on an extraordinary day at the Ohio Supreme Court.
Justice Stewart’s induction as the Court's newest member came 50 years after Robert M. Duncan’s appointment as the first African-American justice on the Court and eight years since Yvette McGee Brown became the first African-American woman appointed to the Court.
Recognizing the magnitude of her achievement, Justice Stewart addressed the audience in part of her speech as though she was speaking directly to the most influential person of her life – her mother, who passed away in January 2000.
In an open letter written to her mom, the justice described the insight, wisdom, and character she learned from her mother during her upbringing in Cleveland.
“You never had the opportunity to be where I am, but yet here I stand, representing you and all that you stood for. Those lessons created in me the ability to serve as a judge – and now as a justice – without being judgmental,” Justice Stewart said.
Having spent her career as a proud student of her profession, Justice Stewart incorporated other personal interests into her hour-long ceremony – namely music.
The songs performed – “America the Beautiful,” “The Impossible Dream,” and “Grateful” – conveyed not only the justice’s spirit as a classically trained pianist, but also the social impact that comes with her unprecedented position.
“The trust that the people in this state have placed in me, and the responsibilities that I now have, are overwhelming and rewarding at the same time,” Justice Stewart said. “I will stand in that space, with determination and pride as your daughter, for I'm eternally grateful, that God entrusted my care to you, and I will not let you down.”