SPRINGFIELD — Decatur native Justice Lisa Holder White was sworn in as the newest member of the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday, making her the first black woman to serve on the state’s high court.
Holder White was sworn in during a special court session held in the theater of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, attended by countless family members, friends and colleagues.
She replaces Justice Rita Garman, 78, who announced plans to retire in May after more than two decades on the state high court and as Illinois’ longest-serving active judge.
Shortly after, Holder White was named to succeed Garmin. The Illinois High Court is unique among state supreme courts in that sitting judges fill vacancies on the High Court.
Addressing the assembled crowd, Holder White let it be known that the barrier breaking milestone was not lost on her.
“My legacy is a legacy that once involved minds and bodies that were chained together and doors that were closed for so long,” Holder White said. “You see, taking my oath here today goes far beyond a personal professional accomplishment.”
“For me, taking the oath here today recognizes the undeniable value and merit of what I have to bring as a black woman, mother, daughter, sister, wife, and jurist to the work of our state’s highest court,” she said. said.
Holder White added that her rise to the High Court is “a testament to the idea that as women and people of color we don’t need to limit our dreams or settle for less”.
This is just the latest leg of a remarkable rise for Holder White, 54.
After only eight years as a lawyer, first in the Macon County State’s Attorney’s Office and then in private practice, Holder White was appointed Associate Judge in Macon County in 2001, the first person black at this post.
Holder White was appointed as a circuit judge in 2008 and later elected to that position. In 2014, Garmin tapped her to be a judge on the Fourth District Court of Appeals, again the first black person in that role. She would later win election to this role.
When it came time to find a new Supreme Court justice, Garman said that “even though it was a tough choice, it was a clear choice.”
“She stands out when you’re around her,” Garman said. “And so I knew she would be able to do all kinds of really exceptional things.”
Thomas Little, a Macon County Circuit Court judge who witnessed Holder White’s swearing-in, agreed.
“She just checks all the boxes you could want in a judge,” Little said. “I mean she’s smart, hardworking, gets along well with people, she has common sense – everything you want in a Supreme Court Justice, she’s got it all.”
Family and friends were the focus of Thursday’s ceremony.
Holder White’s daughter-in-law and son performed the national anthem, the former singing and the latter playing the piano.
Reverend CD Stuart of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Decatur delivered the invocation. And among the speakers was Will County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Cornelius, who is the cousin of Holder White’s husband, James.
“In this very complex and unbalanced world, Lisa is one of the most balanced people I know,” Cornelius said. “And our nation needs leaders and jurists like her who are multi-faceted with diverse backgrounds, ideas, perspectives, worldviews and voices.”
Holder White’s husband, two children, parents, sisters and other family members attended.
High-level political attendees included Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Deputy Governor Andy Manar, Senate Speaker Don Harmon and Illinois Republican Party Chairman Don Tracy.
Like Garman, Holder White is a Republican, meaning the court’s 4-3 Democratic majority remains unchanged. She plans to stand for re-election for a full ten-year term in 2024.
Contact Brenden Moore at 217-421-7984. Follow him on Twitter: @brendenmoore13