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Empowering the Dream
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1974 Class Note: Bernice Donald
Bernice Donald
Bernice Donald

Bernice Donald (BA, JD ’79) was confirmed as a member of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 96-2 in September. She was the first circuit court nominee to be confirmed within four months of nomination. Donald will bring diversity in both race and gender to the 16-member, Cincinnati-based court, which hears appeals of cases from Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky. The approval came after just 30 minutes of debate, in which Tennessee’s Bob Corker was one of the senators to speak in her favor. “Bernice Donald is well respected in the Memphis area for a long record of community and public service, and I appreciate her commitment and willingness to continue serving Tennessee and the nation in this way,” Corker said.

Donald was previously a U.S. district judge for the Western District of Tennessee. She has been a federal judge for more than 20 years, and has almost 30 years of judicial experience. Donald was elected to her first judicial position in the criminal division of Shelby County General Sessions Court in 1982, making her the first female African-American judge in Tennessee. She also became the nation’s first female African-American bankruptcy judge in 1988. The American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession honored her with its 2011 Spirit of Excellence Award.

Donald was born in DeSoto County, the sixth of 10 children of a domestic worker and a self-taught mechanic. She was among the first students to integrate the public schools there.

 

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