According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, on July 29, 2011, the Virginia General Assembly elected the state’s first African-American female Supreme Court justice, Cleo E. Powell of Chesterfield County. It was a historic selection that also marks the first time the state legislature has elected any African-American to the state’s highest court.
The General Assembly elected Powell, 54, to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Leroy Hassel.
Senator A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico described Powell as “the only member of the court that has served at every level in addition to, of course, being the first African-American woman. She’s well-credentialed, well-experienced and I look forward to her having a very successful tenure as a member of the Supreme Court.”
Powell was elected to a 12-year term starting August 1, 2011 – July 31, 2023 at an annual salary of $170,339.
According to the Afro, Justice Powell was sworn in as the Virginia Supreme Court’s first black female justice on Friday, October 21, 2011. Justice Powell was accompanied by her husband, Alvin Larnell Dilworth and her mother. She placed her left hand on her late father’s Bible as Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser administered the oath of office. (See Photo on the Left).
Justice Powell told a packed courtroom:
“I recognize and I know this is not about me. It’s never been about me. It’s about the thousands of people who have worked diligently and given their lives that these opportunities will be available.”
Justice Cleo Powell’s Profile
- Before joining the Supreme Court, Powell served more than two years on the Virginia Court of Appeals.
- She previously served as a circuit court and general district court judge for Chesterfield County and Colonial Heights.
- Powell specialized in labor and employment law for the Hunton & Williams law firm in Richmond
- She worked in the state attorney general’s office and for Virginia Power before being elected to the bench.
- Governor Bob McDonnell said. “It’s truly a great blend of experience in the public and private sectors.”
- Governor Bob McDonnell also say, “But equally impressive is Powell’s work in the community — particularly her service on the board of the Central Virginia Food Bank.
- Her pastor, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, also lauded Powell for church activities benefiting children and the homeless.
It is interesting that on each court Powell has served, she has been the first African-American female to do so.
Congratulations, Justice Cleo E. Powell!