Sarah Gamard Delaware Online-
At her investiture to the Delaware Supreme Court on Friday, Tamika Montgomery-Reeves' remarks were full of gratitude.
She thanked her family, mentors and colleagues for supporting her. She thanked the governor and lawmaking body for nominating and confirming her to the bench. And she thanked the crowd in Wilmington's Howard High School auditorium for coming to watch the historic moment.
"I do not feel the least bit entitled to be sitting in front of you,” she said.
At 38, the former vice chancellor is not only the youngest person to sit on Delaware’s Supreme Court bench, she is the first African-American Supreme Court justice in the state's history.
Montgomery-Reeves' choice to hold the event at Howard High was an intentional nod to Delaware's civil rights history.
At the end of the 19th century, the school was one of only two options for black students to receive a secondary education in Delaware. Delaware State College, now called Delaware State University, was the other.
In the next century, the state's segregated system forced students from black families living in the suburbs outside Wilmington to attend the all-black Howard High. Often, parents had to drive their children for miles, past schools in their backyards.
It prompted Delaware to become one of the handful of states involved in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education case. The local judge at the time, the late Collins Seitz Sr., whose son Montgomery-Reeves is replacing, ruled that separate schools are inherently unequal ones.
hat connection wasn't lost on Montgomery-Reeves. It also wasn't lost on several of the speakers, who lauded the newest Supreme Court justice's credentials.
"She will be a superb member of the Delaware Supreme Court," said Gov. John Carney.
The Senate unanimously approved Montgomery-Reeves in November. She is replacing Supreme Court Justice Collins Seitz Jr., who was confirmed as chief justice in place of retiring Chief Justice Leo Strine Jr.
Seitz, who also spoke at the event, read a statement from former Vice President Joe Biden congratulating Montgomery-Reeves.
"We are lucky to have a Supreme Court in Delaware that is beginning to reflect the diversity of our state," the Biden statement said. "Few are as eminently qualified as you."
Montgomery-Reeves has served since 2015 as a vice chancellor on Delaware’s Court of Chancery. The Wilmington resident was the first African American and the second woman to serve as a judge on that court.
Delaware follows more than 30 states that have had a black Supreme Court justice, according to Ballotpedia, a digital encyclopedia that tracks U.S. politics.
"The state has finally come around and made the appointment, which is certainly timely, although perhaps it could have happened earlier," said Leland Ware, an attorney and professor of Africana studies at the University of Delaware's Biden School of Public Policy and Administration.
African Americans make up 23 percent of Delaware's population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Montgomery-Reeves is reflecting that by filling one of Delaware's five Supreme Court seats.
Her position could also bring new viewpoint, Ware said.
"When Thurgood Marshall served on the Supreme Court, he brought a perspective that had been missing," Ware said, referring to the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice. "The presence of a person, an African American with a background as a minority is likely to bring a perspective that would be different and perhaps broader than some of the others."
How Montgomery-Reeves will rule in a given case, he said, remains to be seen.
Montgomery-Reeves grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and University of Georgia Law School.
She came to Delaware permanently in 2011 at the urging of former Chancery Court Chancellor William B. Chandler III who was opening the Wilmington office of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, where she was made partner.
While at Wilson Sonsini, Montgomery-Reeves was part of a team that represented Chevron Corp. in a 2013 case in which Chancery Court upheld the use of corporate bylaws to force shareholders to sue in Delaware courts allowing corporations to limit multi-jurisdictional litigation.