Bolden breaks barriers on state Supreme Court

In recent years, the term “unprecedented” has frequently been used in regard to the judicial and political landscape in America, from elections and protests to indictments and court rulings.

Add Michigan Supreme Court Justice – and Detroit Mercy School of Law graduate – Kyra Harris Bolden to that list.

Earlier this year, Bolden, 34, became the first Black woman to serve on the state’s highest court. She’s also believed to be Michigan’s youngest justice ever appointed to the bench. Her journey there was also unique.

Bolden previously served as a member of Michigan’s House of Representatives for two terms and ran for one of two open Supreme Court seats in last November’s elec- tions. But she lost the race, finishing third behind two incumbent justices.Less than two months later, however, Bolden would be sworn-in as a justice anyway, after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer selected her to fill a surprise vacancy on the court after former Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack announced her early retirement.

Bolden’s transition from the legislature to the judiciary was also memorable because she had recently given birth to her first child, Emerson Bolden. Whitmer, in a conference announcing her decision, said Bolden would bring “a unique perspective that has too long been left out, not only as a Black woman but also as a new mom.”

In an interview with The Varsity News, Bolden fondly recalled her time at Detroit Mercy’s law school, calling it “worthwhile” and “some of the best years.”

She received her Juris Doctor from the school after graduating in 2014. Bolden, a Southfield native, went to Grand Valley State Univer- sity for her undergrad degree before moving back to southeast Michigan to attend UDM Law.

“We are proud of Justice Bolden,” Detroit Mercy Law Dean Jelani Jefferson Exum told the university’s alumni magazine in a story earlier this year. “She is a shining example of the great work being done by Detroit Mercy Law graduates. We look forward to the lasting impact she will make serving in this important role.”

Bolden said Detroit Mercy Law prepared her well for all of her professional roles.

She said her professors helped inspire and motivate her. She also said that the law school’s location in the heart of the city and close to local law firms helped her get experience and build connections.

Establishing relationships and growing your network, she advised, is the most important step to take as a young professional.

“Build as many relationships as possible,” she said. “Go to that event, volunteer for that thing – because you never know where your paths will intersect in the future.”

Bolden said transitioning into her new role wasn’t easy, especially as she also balanced being the mother to an infant daughter.

“Starting any new job is difficult,” she said. “It just required me to put a lot more time into my job and other aspects of my life had to take a backseat during that time.”

Bolden made it clear that she is fully invested in her position on the bench.

“I owe it to Michiganders to be thoughtful, well-read, and prepared,” she said.

In the future, Bolden hopes to increase racial, gender, and socioeconomic diversity within the Supreme Court in all positions including justices, law clerks and staffers.

“When we’re making such important decisions it’s important for people who have different lived experiences to be at the table,” she said.

Bolden said she wants to make the court accessible to all.

She wants people to feel comfortable interacting with it as an institution and she wants children – especially children of color and young girls – to know that it is a viable career path.

She also wants to make sure that the judicial system is functioning in the best way possible. To Bolden, the best interaction that a person can have with the system is one that ends with a feeling of fairness.

“Justice requires a fair and unbiased hearing and I think we all carry bias,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to have different people at the table who have different lived experiences.”