Alumna makes history as first black female on Michigan Supreme Court

February 06, 2023

When she was sworn in as Michigan Supreme Court justice on Jan. 1, Kyra Harris Bolden ’14 made history. The University of Detroit Mercy Law alumna is the first Black woman to serve on the state’s highest court.

In appointing her to the position, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said, “Kyra is committed to fighting for justice for generations, and I know she will serve Michigan admirably, building a brighter future for her newborn daughter and all our kids.”

“I will ensure equal access to justice, apply the law without fear or favor, and treat all who come before our state’s highest court with dignity and respect,” Bolden said in a prepared statement when she was appointed.

Kyra Harris Bolden smiling outdoors in a red dressShe praised the work of other Black, female judges who paved the way for this appointment and said she hopes today’s young women will see her as an inspiration. “I hope that my voice on the court will inspire future generations to pursue their dreams," she said.

Bolden, 34, is also the youngest justice on the Michigan Supreme Court and came to the position by a circuitous route. In 2022, she ran for one of two seats on the bench, but came in third behind incumbents Richard Bernstein and Brian Zahra ’87, who is also a UDM alumnus. Shortly after the election, Whitmer chose Bolden to replace sitting justice Bridget Mary McCormack, who retired.

“I’ve always been interested in public service,” Bolden said in a 2020 interview with Detroit Mercy Law, when she was running for a second term in the Michigan House. “I thought that I could use my legal background to serve my community in a unique way. I know how the laws affect people and my community and perspective are incredibly important.”

In an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Bolden tells the story of her great-grandfather, Jesse Lee Bond, who was lynched in Tennessee in 1939 for asking a store owner for a receipt. He was beaten, castrated and thrown into a river. The death was ruled an accidental drowning and no one was held responsible.

“Once I realized that was something that happened in my own family, I just felt the need to be a part of the justice system and to go to law school and find my way,” she said in the interview.

She chose University of Detroit Mercy’s School of Law.

“We are proud of Justice Bolden,” Detroit Mercy Law Dean Jelani Jefferson Exum said. “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 credits the location, camaraderie, and diversity of Detroit Mercy Law in helping shape her into the attorney and jurist she is today.

“Being a part of Detroit Mercy Law afforded me many different opportunities that have absolutely enhanced my experience as an attorney and now as a jurist,” she said in a recent interview. “I was able to do internships and externships in and around the city of Detroit. It was a great benefit to my career to be able to walk to them and gain experience while a student.”

She also cited the “unmatched” camaraderie she experienced while attending Detroit Mercy Law.

“I have lifelong friends that support me, and I do the same for them,” she said. “The diversity of background, experience and perspectives that Detroit Mercy Law allowed me to encounter facilitated my direction and how I wanted to move through my legal career.”

After graduating, Bolden was a civil litigator in Detroit and worked as a staff attorney for the 3rd Circuit Court of Wayne County and a court-appointed criminal defense attorney in Southfield. She ran for and won a seat in the Michigan House in 2018 and was re-elected to a second term in 2020. She was an effective representative, serving on the Judiciary Committee where she helped shepherd two criminal law reform bills into law. She also was noted for having the highest number of bills passed by any freshman representative in 2019.

Bolden is married to Greg Bolden and the two have a newborn daughter, Emerson.

“In just a few generations, this family has gone from lynching to law school, from injustice to Justice,” Bolden said at the press conference announcing her appointment.

“I am humbled by this honor, and I am ready to get to work on behalf of all Michiganders.”