Center for Women in Law Honors Judge Bernice Bouie Donald with Hortense Ward Courageous Leader Award

Hon. Bernice Donald portrait
The Hon. Bernice B. Donald

The Center for Women in Law presented its Hortense Ward Courageous Leader award to The Honorable Bernice Bouie Donald, Circuit Court Judge, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit at the Center’s Biennial Award Luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel in Austin on Friday, April 21.

The Center’s Hortense Ward Courageous Leader Award recognizes an outstanding lawyer who exemplifies Ward’s tenacity, courage, and commitment to achieve gender parity in positions of leadership, influence, and responsibility in the legal profession.

“Judge Donald personifies the spirit and legacy of Hortense Ward as both are trailblazers in their profession. As the first African American female judge to sit on the bench of the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit to her community leadership, early activism, and continued work to mentor the next generation of lawyers, Judge Donald continues to inspire,” said Veronica Vargas Stidvent, Executive Director of The Center for Women in Law.

A trailblazer with many firsts in her resume, Judge Donald was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Sept. 6, 2011, by President Barack Obama. She enjoyed bipartisan support during her confirmation. Prior to that, Judge Donald sat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. She previously served as Judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Tennessee, becoming the first African American woman in the history of the United States to serve as a bankruptcy judge. In 1982, she was elected to the General Sessions Criminal Court, where she became the first African American woman to serve as a judge in the history of the State of Tennessee.

Her leadership and community service is far-reaching, having served as president of the National Association of Women Judges and the Association of Women Attorneys and chairing the Memphis Diversity Institute and the Commission on Opportunities for Minorities in the legal profession. Judge Donald is also active in her local Memphis community working with Leadership Memphis and co-founding 4-Life, a skills training and enrichment program for area youth.

Judge Donald received her law degree from the University of Memphis School of Law, where she also served as an adjunct faculty member. She serves as faculty for the Federal Judicial Center and the National Judicial College. Judge Donald has received more than 100 awards for professional, civic, and community activities, including the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Memphis, the Martin Luther King Community Service Award, and the Benjamin Hooks Award presented in 2002 by the Memphis Bar Foundation.

The Biennial Award Luncheon is the Center’s major donor event, providing an opportunity to highlight the work of the Center and its mission. The event honored that Judge Donald also featured a keynote by Valorie Burton, CEO of the Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute.

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