Constance Baker Motley was an African-American civil rights activist, lawyer, judge, state senator, and Borough President of Manhattan, New York City.
She wrote the original complaint in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. The first African-American woman ever to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, in Meredith v. Fair she successfully won James Meredith’s effort to be the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi in 1962. Motley was successful in nine of the ten cases she argued before the Supreme Court. The tenth decision, regarding jury composition, was eventually overturned in her favor. She was otherwise a key legal strategist in the civil rights movement, helping to desegregate Southern schools, buses, and lunch counters.
In 1964, She became the first African American woman elected to the New York State Senate. In 1965, she was chosen Manhattan Borough President—the first woman in that position. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson named her a district judge for the United States District Court Southern District of New York, making her the first African American woman federal court judge, a position she held, including a term as chief judge, until her death.
She handed down a breakthrough decision for women in sports broadcasting in 1978, when she ruled that a female reporter must be allowed into a Major League Baseball locker room.
In 1993, she was inducted into National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal. The NAACP awarded her the Spingarn Medal, the organization’s highest honor, in 2003. Motley was a prominent honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.