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Judge Bill Lewis makes history as first African-American on Civil Appeals Court

Lewis is the first African-American judge on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, one of the state’s highest courts.

Judge Bill Lewis
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In a momentous ceremony fraught with symbolism and promise, Honorable Judge Bill Lewis ascended to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals amidst applause and lofty expectations. This historic investiture, held at the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building in Montgomery, marked Lewis as the first African-American Judge on this esteemed court. His appointment fills the significant vacancy left by Judge William C. “Bill” Thompson, whose retirement in February concluded a stalwart 27-year tenure, the final 17 as its Presiding Judge.

The appointment, officiated by Governor Kay Ivey on February 28, 2024, has not been without its detractors. Critics point to the appointment as a mere performative nod towards diversity, questioning whether it represents a true commitment to justice reform or simply a strategic political maneuver. However, Lewis’s supporters hail it as a long-overdue step towards inclusivity within the Alabama judiciary system.

Judge Lewis, whose judicial roots stretch back to his days as Circuit Court Judge for the 19th Judicial Circuit in Elmore County, has a multifaceted legal background. Before his circuit judgeship initiated in 2016, Lewis was the senior partner at Lewis Law Firm. His legal journey also includes roles as a prosecutor and defense attorney in criminal cases, showcasing his versatility across criminal and civil law domains.

During his speech, Judge Lewis underscored his deep roots and ongoing commitment to his “19th circuit family,” asserting that despite his new role covering all 64 counties of Alabama, he remains dedicated to his home circuit. His heartfelt acknowledgment of his family’s support punctuated his personal narrative, emphasizing the sacrifices entwined with his career trajectory.

The ceremony itself was steeped in local tradition and personal touches: the Wetumpka High School Color Guard presented the colors, his son Billy led the Pledge of Allegiance, and his sister, local luminary and Elmore County Commissioner Desirae Lewis Jackson, delivered a stirring rendition of the national anthem.

The event also featured luminaries such as civil rights attorney Fred Gray, who at 93, remains a formidable figure in the legal community. Gray, known for representing iconic figures like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., and his involvement in the landmark Tuskegee Syphilis Study lawsuit, provided remarks that bridged generational gaps in the fight for civil rights.
This investiture not only celebrates Judge Lewis’s professional achievements but also signals potential shifts in the judicial landscape of Alabama. As celebrations subside, the weight of expectation now rests on Judge Lewis’s shoulders to champion the cause of justice and equality from his new platform on the Court of Civil Appeals.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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