Janice Rogers Brown is a noted jurist, who rose from humble beginnings in the segregated South to one of the highest federal courts in America.

Born in 1949 to Alabama sharecroppers, her family never accepted the evil of segregation. They refused to patronize restaurants or theaters with separate entrances for blacks. Her grandmother wouldn’t even let her sit in the colored section she told a friend. 

Brown’s father served in the military and her mother was a nurse. The family moved around the country before settling in California.

Brown graduated from California State University with her bachelor’s degree in 1974 and earned a law degree from UCLA in 1977. She put herself through college by working as a telephone operator at the Department of Corrections, where she met and married her first husband and had a child. Unfortunately, his untimely death due to cancer left her as a single mother working her way through school. 

Those challenges did not stop Brown. She launched a career in public service–with stints in the private sector–that spanned four decades. Her roles included:

  • Deputy legislative counsel, California
  • Deputy attorney general, California
  • Deputy secretary & general counsel, California’s Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency
  • Legal affairs secretary for Republican Governor Pete Wilson of California
  • Associate justice, The California Third District Court of Appeal
  • Associate justice, California Supreme Court

In 2005, Brown was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed to serve as a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She served on this court until retiring in 2017.

Janice Rogers Brown has been considered a potential candidate for the Supreme Court but has faced significant pushback from liberal groups because of her philosophical views.  

The irony is that Brown was not always conservative. Her colleagues defend her against criticism that her work reflects her personal views.

Brown was markedly liberal as a young woman but her philosophical views evolved over time.  Her family was reportedly involved in the voting rights movement in Alabama and became liberal Democrats. Fred D. Gray, an Alabama civil rights lawyer who represented Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., inspired Brown to pursue a legal career. 

The LA Times wrote:

During her college days, Janice Rogers Brown roamed campus as a single mother with her young son in tow, her hair in what some remembered as “the biggest ‘fro there was” and her views so leftist that she later described them as almost Maoist. 

Today, Brown espouses very different views. She is now an ardent defender of freedom and limited government. She’s said of her own evolution: 

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, ‘If you aren’t a liberal before you’re 30 you have no heart, and if you are not a conservative before you’re 40 you have no brain’… That saying applies to me.

Nonetheless, she is respected in the legal community because her views do not dictate her approach to cases.

Janice Rogers Brown has retired from the bench, but she continues to be an inspiration.