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Tampa attorneys say Jackson confirmation is pinnacle achievement for Black women in law

Fentrice Driskell, left, and Suzanne Decopain
Octavio Jones
/
WUSF Public Media
Fentrice Driskell, left, is an attorney who represents Tampa in the state house. She is the Democratic leader designate designate, and will soon become the first Black woman to lead Florida House Democrats. Suzanne Decopain, right, recently opened her own firm in Tampa, where her practice focuses on evictions, landlord-tenant disputes, property insurance and criminal defense.

WUSF spoke about this historic moment with Florida State Representative Fentrice Driskell and Tampa attorney Suzanne Decopain.

The confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court is a first, and it holds extra significance to women of color who practice law. WUSF spoke about this historic moment with Florida State Representative Fentrice Driskell and Tampa attorney Suzanne Decopain.

Woman in a pink suit standing, smiling outside in front of a tree
Octavio Jones
/
WUSF Public Media
Fentrice Driskell is an attorney who represents Tampa in the state house. She is the Democratic leader designate designate, and will soon become the first Black woman to lead Florida House Democrats.

Fentrice Driskell is a litigation attorney for the Tampa law firm of Carlton Fields. She also serves as State Representative for Florida House District 63 and is the Democratic leader designate. She soon will become the first Black woman to lead Florida House Democrats.

“This is the ultimate achievement in terms of representation and why it matters.

“Since I was 17-years-old, I wanted to be a lawyer. While I was in law school, I had an internship at the Southern District of New York Federal Court in Manhattan. One day I was in the library and in walks, Judge Constance Baker Motley, who was the first Black woman ever appointed as a federal judge. And I just remember the chill that that gave me then, and how or inspired I was seeing her.

“And now, over 20 years later, seeing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson being appointed to the Supreme Court, it feels like just the pinnacle of achievement for Black women in the law. And so that's just another example of why representation matters, especially to our youngest generation, because we look up to the generations above us as the role models.

“Case in point I can remember when I was a little girl, I loved basketball. But at the time, there was no WNBA. And you wonder if there had been a WNBA when I was growing up, would that have made a difference? And maybe I would have practiced my free throws and my layups a little more.

“So you look at someone like Judge Jackson, who is so well qualified, so poised, who was the epitome of grace under fire during the trauma of those confirmation hearings, and I think little Black girls will look up to her and say if she did it, then I can do it too.”

Woman in striped shirt standing, smiling and holding her hands
Octavio Jones
/
WUSF Public Media
Suzanne Decopain recently opened her own firm in Tampa, where her practice focuses on evictions, landlord-tenant disputes, property insurance and criminal defense.

Suzanne Decopain has practiced law for 12 years and recently opened her own firm in Tampa, where her practice focuses on evictions, landlord-tenant disputes, property insurance and criminal defense.

“My parents highly encouraged that I consider law school after completing my undergraduate studies, where I majored in math and social science. And I was heading towards grad school for Urban and Regional Planning. However, they were not familiar with that profession.

“And it might have been for a few reasons. My grandfather was a lawyer. And my Mom was very proud of that. She believes that the law is a noble profession.

“I've been practicing for a little over 12 years now. And being in a profession where there's a lack of diversity, most of your co-workers, most of your bosses, most of your, the judges that you appear before, they're mostly white. And it's very difficult to stay encouraged in this area or in this field.

“And when I see Judge Jackson, that's very encouraging because every day we, as Black female attorneys, we struggle to see people like us and to work with people like us. So, it's definitely encouraging.

I think the message it sends to young Black woman is something that most of us have already known, but just confirms that we have the ability and the power to do whatever we set our minds to.”

I’m Octavio Jones, a frequent contributor to WUSF, and native of Washington D.C. I’ve also spent an extensive time of my life in North Carolina.