Newest Vermont Supreme Court Justice Is 1st Woman of Color to Serve on Bench

Nancy Waples was sworn in as an associate justice, becoming the first woman of color on Vermont's highest court

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The Vermont Supreme Court made history Friday, with the swearing-in of its first-ever woman of color to serve as an associate justice.

"It is an extraordinary honor," Justice Nancy Waples said as she assumed her new role.

The daughter of immigrants from China, Waples learned English at 9, and worked seven days a week in her family's restaurant growing up, she recalled.

After law school, Waples became a trial attorney in state and federal courtrooms.

Famous in legal circles for her kindness and civility, Waples can say she had a Democrat name her as a judge on the Vermont Superior Court and a Republican elevate her to Supreme Court justice.

"Our courts haven't looked like America," observed Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, just ahead of the formal swearing-in of Waples. "Judge Waples will be a justice who reflects not only the talents of a well-qualified candidate, but the possibilities that are open to all."

Seeing people from diverse backgrounds and with wide ranges of lived experiences achieve high levels of public service is important, noted Xusana Davis, Vermont's racial equity director.

"It provides lenses through which previous courts have not yet looked," Davis said. "And that's exciting. It's exciting for residents and visitors to the state of Vermont, because we know legal issues are not limited to those who can call themselves Vermonters."

Waples, who noted the United States is a country made up of immigrants, told NECN and NBC10 Boston she believes the more inclusive our communities are, and more representative our institutions become, the better we'll understand each other.

The history-making justice said she hopes her achievement inspires other people of color to climb the ladder she climbed.

"I hope I can be there to help others who have an interest in the law — in the judiciary — and serve as a mentor to encourage them," Waples added.

Justice Nancy Waples may be the first woman of color to serve on the Vermont Supreme Court, but she emphasized she certainly will not be the last.

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