DePaul Law alumna appointed first Black woman to serve as 18th judicial circuit judge


A. Traub & Associates

Chantelle Porter, DePaul College of Law alumna and former A. Traub and Associates family attorney, is the first Black woman appointed to serve as a judge in the 18th judicial circuit.

The Illinois State Supreme Court recently appointed Chantelle Porter, DePaul College of Law alumna and former A. Traub and Associates family attorney, as the first Black woman to serve as a judge in the 18th judicial circuit.

In the criminal justice system, though there is a large emphasis on national politics, local courts have a larger impact on individual people. With people of color being people of power in the legal system, there are more opportunities for people to have fair trials, according to Manoj Mate, associate professor of law and faculty director for the College of Law’s Racial Justice Initiative.

Following the announcement, Melinda Oliver, president of DePaul’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and third year College of Law student, said she was shocked to hear that DuPage county had never had a Black woman serve as a judge before.

“When I found out, the first thing I thought was, ‘oh, we will have to reach out to her,’” Oliver said. “We’re going to have to request her to come and speak with our students, particularly our first and second year students. Seeing someone who came from our college and has gone out and done such amazing work, not only to become a judge, but to do the work she was doing in her family law firm for so many years, it’s inspirational.”

After the appointment was made, Porter told CBS News she was “honored to be a part of this historic moment.”

Oliver said Porter’s appointment is a big win for Black people in DuPage county, especially for Black women, because in counties that have a majority white population, it is hard for Black peoples’ voices to be heard in the judicial system. In DuPage county, 78.8% of the population is white and 5.4% of the population is Black, according to the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau

“When you’re trying in front of a jury, it’s supposed to be a jury of your peers, because your experiences, your demographic, your sex, gender, age, where you’re coming from, it does color,” Oliver said. “Judges are their community leaders, they set the culture of how they deal with the population when a lot of people are coming in in their most vulnerable moments [and] their most shameful moments. Having people who might understand some of your background [and …] that personal connection with the population, I just think is really important.”

Mate said that even though some counties are similar to DuPage where they are majority white, there still has to be representation for the people of color within the community for fair decisions to be made. 

When the judiciary is homogenous and lacks diversity, but the parties that are coming before it are diverse, if you keep seeing that dissonance, it can lead to a lack of trust and legitimacy in our courts,” Mate said.

As of 2019, Black women make up only about 3% of all sitting judges and 5% of all active district and circuit judges, according to the Center for American Progress. Oliver said that with this percentage being so low, it is often difficult for Black law students to envision themselves in their desired profession. She said Porter’s appointment gives her hope that one day, she will be able to accomplish her goals in the legal field. 

For me as a black woman in the legal industry, that is, I think only between 5% to 6% Black, [seeing appointments like Porter’s is] like the little sliver of hope that I think sometimes I need to feel like I belong and I am not just getting swept away with the tide,” Oliver said. “I’m able to make my own statement and have my own career and make my own personal landmarks that don’t have to necessarily follow the grain of my white counterparts, or maybe the more traditional corporate law path.”

Mate said Porter’s appointment “is a proud moment for DePaul.” He said that though students sometimes have a hard time seeing themselves as professionals in the legal industry, appointments like these, from people who went to their college, encourages them to dream more. 

When law students see one of their own alumni, in this case, a woman of color, achieving this success, it can inspire them by highlighting a pathway toward a successful legal career, and that in the future they too could get appointed to judicial positions and make an impact in public service,’” Mate said. 

Mate said this appointment is a push in the right direction, not only for the encouragement of students in law school, but for the equal representation of people across the board in Illinois.

We often underestimate the importance of a diverse judiciary,” Mate said. “Diversity isn’t just something we do to check off boxes. Diversity matters because it can improve judicial decision making, and if public institutions don’t reflect the demographics of our communities, then the legitimacy of our institutions starts to be questioned.”

For Black students who are interested in pursuing law, students can contact BLSA at [email protected] for resources or mentorship. BLSA is hosting an MLK Remembrance Day on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. in the DePaul Center, Oliver said anyone is welcome to attend and lunch will be provided.