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Constance Baker Motley made history in several ways in her legal career, but her most notable achievement took place on this day in 1966. Baker Motley was confirmed as a U.S. District Court judge by President Lyndon B. Johnson, making her the first Black women to be federally appointed to the federal bench.

Born Constance Baker in New Haven, Connecticut, the future legal pioneer began her studies at Fisk University. As a teenager, she read a quote from President Abraham Lincoln saying that the legal profession was the hardest, which motivated her. After transferring and completing undergraduate studies at New York University, she entered and graduated with a degree from Columbia University Law School.

Baker Motley, who married real estate broker Joel Motley, joined the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund as a civil rights attorney. She served as an assistant to the LDF’s Thurgood Marshall and even represented Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. while also arguing several large civil rights cases.

She is also the first Black woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court winning nine of her 10 cases she brought before the Supreme Court justices.

In 1964, Baker Motley made her first historic mark by her election to the New York State Senate. The following year, Baker Motley was elected as Manhattan’s first Black borough president.

In 1966, after Johnson’s appointment, she was officially confirmed and commanded the bench of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York until her passing at 84 in 2005.

In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded Motley Baker the Presidential Citizens Medal and in 2003, the NAACP bestowed upon her the organization’s highest honor in the Spingarn Medal.

PHOTO: Fair Use

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