From Houston Public Media:
Though Houston and Harris County make up one of the most ethnically and racially diverse metro areas in the country, that hasn’t always been reflected in its judges. But the region recently took a big step towards greater diversity when it elected a record 19 African-American women to the bench.
Harris County’s criminal courts are still damaged from the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey, so criminal court judges are doubling up in the Harris County Family Law Center, a seven-story office building in downtown Houston.
Erica Hughes is the presiding judge for Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 3. Hughes is a former Army lawyer who still serves in the Texas Army National Guard. She’s one of the Houston 19, also known as “Harris County Black Girl Magic.”
“A few of us are on the same floor, so of course we would see each other every day,” Hughes says. “So, it’s great to have them available and accessible and so close.”
Some are closer than others. Shannon Baldwin, the presiding judge of Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law No. 4, shares Hughes’ third-floor courtroom. But the Family Law Center is not nearly as crowded as it was when the 19 met in July of 2017. The Harris County Democratic Party held a “get to know you” meeting that included every candidate for every office on its slate.
“If you could imagine a room that was far too small, we were all sort of packed in, and it was just like, ‘State your name and what you’re going to be running for,’ and it just went around the room like that,” Baldwin says. She adds that the potential judges had never discussed plans to run as a group. Nearly half had to win primaries first.
“Once we moved past the primary election, we realized that there was this great phenomenon if you will, a large number of African-American women running for judge,” Baldwin says. “And it just simply occurred to us that that was something that needed to be highlighted, and we thought it would be a motivating factor to our voting base.”
The phrase “Black Girls Are Magic” had been circulating on social media for at least five years.
“Just the idea of Black Girl Magic in and of itself is just a celebration of the accomplishments of African-American women in various sectors within society, and typically those where we’re underrepresented, such as the judiciary here in Harris County,” Judge Tonya Jones says, explaining why the candidates latched onto the phrase.