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With first Black female Supreme Court nominee in the spotlight, Cleveland judge reflects on her historic career

Judge Tonya R. Jones - current professional photo.jpeg
Posted at 11:51 AM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 18:54:07-04

CLEVELAND — Monday will mark a major milestone in American history when the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson, will begin her confirmation hearings.

A judge in Northeast Ohio, who also made history herself, will be watching closely.

Since the moment President Joe Biden officially introduced Jackson to the nation, emotions have been swirling for Tonya Jones.

"Oh, my goodness. Excitement, anticipation. Is this is really going to happen?, "said Tonya Jones, Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court judge.

Judge Tonya R. Jones - with Vice President Harris.jpeg
Judge Tonya R. Jones.

With the first Black woman poised to preside over the highest court in the land, Jones, the first African-American female to serve in the 97-year history of Cuyahoga County's Domestic Relations Court, reflects on her journey to the bench.

"I really wanted to blaze my own trail, to make my own footprint. I didn't feel like I was respected by a lot of the lawyers," said Jones.

Jones said her counterpart is likely to face several challenges.

"People are going to pay attention to her mannerisms, her speech. I'm sure that her hair, the way she dresses," said Jones.

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Judge Tonya R. Jones.

Jones' love of the legal system started at an early age while living on her family’s farm in Alabama.

"I used to watch Perry Mason with my grandmother," said Jones.

She was so intrigued by the dynamics in the courtroom drama, that at 6 years old, she talked about being an attorney.

"My grandmother said no, you should be the judge. That's the person in the courtroom who has the power, that's the decision-maker," said Jones.

In January of 2017, Jones started calling the shots in her domestic relations courtroom.

"My entire heart is in what I do," said Jones.

Jones created change in the court by starting the Families First program.

Magistrate Tonya R. Jones.jpeg
Judge Tonya R. Jones.

"It was the first of its kind in the State of Ohio," said Jones.

The program assists families impacted by mental health and substance use disorders.

"Those are the types of things that I want to continue to do as I serve the people," said Jones.

Before getting the chance to serve on the Supreme Court, Jackson will need to handle the spotlight.

"I'm looking forward to the confirmation hearings. The decisions that she made from the bench are going to be scrutinized, criticized just more so than you would typically see in a Supreme Court confirmation process," said Jones.

As Jackson articulates her position on issues, Jones said she will provide perspective to the conversation of justice for all, along with much-needed representation.

"It's important to see people that look like you when you are striving to do something. I'm excited for the little Black girls and the other female Black attorneys to be able to see someone that has obtained that level of success," said Jones.