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