NewsBlack History Month


First elected African-American woman Ohio Supreme Court justice hopes to 'break down' barriers

Posted at 3:48 PM, Feb 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-07 21:36:27-05

The Ohio Supreme Court has historically been an all-white, mostly male, government body, but that changed in January when Justice Melody Stewart was sworn into the court.

"I ran under the banner of we need to have diversity at the highest level of our judiciary, and not just cultural or socioeconomic or demographics like that but intellectual diversity," Stewart, the first African-American woman elected to Ohio's highest court, said. "I bring a different perspective to the court."

Stewart's mother raised her in Cleveland. In order to save money, Stewart said she decided to attend college at the University of Cincinnati in order to get in-state tuition. She says it's experiences like this that give her a different insight into the struggles many Ohioans normally face.

"Someone who has a different background can say, 'I think this is important to the state and this is why,'" Stewart said. "They can then say, 'You know, we didn't think about it that way.'"

Stewart said she knows her election represents a new day for some African-Americans.

"I realize the importance of children, girls or boys, African-American kids, seeing a picture of somebody who looks like their mother or their aunt or their sister or their grandmother," Stewart said.

Although Stewart recognizes the significance of being the first African-American woman elected to the Ohio Supreme Court, she also knows she represents all Ohioans, no matter their race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

"We are a visual society," Stewart said. "We are a labeling society. We are an 'us' and 'them' society, and that's unfortunate, I think. Hopefully, my being here can break down some of those barriers."