Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Justice Stewart Starts Tenure as First African-American Woman Elected to Supreme Court

At 215 years old, the Ohio Supreme Court is full of history, but it’s most recent milestone wasn’t a decision. It was an addition.

In November, Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Melody Stewart became the first African-American woman elected to the state’s premier bench.

“I don’t know that you feel it when you’re in the moment. I certainly recognize and appreciate the historic aspect of my being elected to this seat and this position,” Justice Stewart said. “I’ve never thought of myself as a person with ambition. I just learned things, learned about things.”

Her path to the top of Ohio's judiciary was unique in other respects. Prior to her legal career, she spent several years in school not only taking notes – but playing them as well – culminating in a music degree from the University of Cincinnati.

“The law permeates all aspects of our lives, and so, it shouldn’t be a surprise that you can major in computer science, or music, or nursing, or education, and then go on to law school,” Justice Stewart said.

While her love of music influenced her approach to life, Justice Stewart’s receptiveness to others helped guide her along the way. It all started with an administrator’s suggestion in high school.

“She came to me and said ‘I think you should run for student council vice president.’ Instead of running for student council vice president, I ran for president, and I won. So, I like to tease that administrator today and tell her, ‘See, you were my first campaign manager,’” Justice Stewart said.

Only weeks into her tenure, she’s undaunted by the added responsibilities of the position as she approaches each case with the intrigue of a self-proclaimed lifelong student.

“If it paints a picture in the mind of someone who came from the background that I came from, or who looks like me, that this is what our justice system should look like, this is a job that I can aspire to have one day, then that’s a great thing,” Justice Stewart said.

Note: Yvette McGee Brown was the first African-American woman to serve as an Ohio Supreme Court justice after her appointment by Governor Ted Strickland on Jan. 1, 2011. She was on the Court until Dec. 7, 2012.