James E. Graves, Jr., Mississippi Adventist, Confirmed as U.S. Fifth Circuit Judge
Had served 10 years on state supreme court
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor
The Hon. James E. Graves, Jr., a presiding justice of the Mississippi State Supreme Court who has served on that panel since 2001 and a Seventh-day Adventist, is the newest member of the Fifth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. Graves, 57, was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama and confirmed on a voice vote in the U.S. Senate on February 14, 2011.
The Fifth Circuit is the federal appellate court for the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Graves is the first African-American judge from Mississippi ever to serve on the Fifth Circuit, according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which praised the move in a statement.
“This is an incredible honor,” Graves said in an announcement posted by the South-Central Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. “I am humbled by the support which I have received, and I look forward to serving our nation in this important position,” he added.
Although not a constitutional requirement, Graves’ position on a federal appeals court also means he could be considered for any future U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.
NEW FEDERAL JUDGE: The Hon. James E. Graves, Jr., a member of the New Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, has been confirmed by the Senate of the United States as a judge for the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. [Wikipedia photo; general public license]
“It’s a wonderful acknowledgement of his abilities, his compassion for the law and for his commitment to justice,” said attorney Karnik Doukmetzian, general counsel for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. “This is a first for a Seventh-day Adventist jurist, and all of us who are members of the church and in the legal profession are very proud of the judge’s accomplishments.”
Doukmetzian said there were approximately 1,000 Seventh-day Adventist attorneys in the United States and “at least a dozen” Adventists who are judges. Graves’ appointment, generally a lifetime position, is believed to be the first time an Adventist has joined the federal bench.
“Throughout his career James E. Graves has shown unwavering integrity and an outstanding commitment to public service,” President Obama said when making the nomination.
Mississippi’s two United States Senators, Republicans Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, also praised Graves’ record of public service and community involvement.
“I believe James Graves is well qualified for service as a Circuit Court Judge for the Fifth Circuit,” Cochran said. “I am pleased the Senate has completed the confirmation process so that Justice Graves can take up the important work of serving on the federal bench.”
“Justice Graves achieved widespread, bipartisan support, and I am glad the Senate confirmed his nomination today,” said Wicker. “His experience and judicial knowledge should serve the Fifth Circuit and the people of Mississippi well.”
James E. Graves Jr. was born in Clinton, Mississippi in 1953. He received his B.A. from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi in 1975, and went on to earn his J.D. from Syracuse University in 1980, and a Masters in Public Administration from Syracuse in 1981.
Graves began his legal career in 1980 as a staff attorney at Central Mississippi Legal Services. At that time he also began his 17 years of service as an Adjunct Professor at Jackson State University, teaching in the Departments of Mass Communications, Political Science, and Public Policy & Administration. After three years at Legal Services, he entered private practice, with a focus on civil matters in state and federal court. From 1986 to 1990, he served as a Special Assistant Attorney General in the Human Services and Health Law divisions of the Office of the Mississippi Attorney General. Graves was then Director of the Division of Child Support Enforcement for the Mississippi Department of Human Services until his appointment to the Hinds County Circuit Court in 1991.
After serving ten years on the Hinds County Circuit Court, Graves was named, by then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, as an Associate Justice of the Mississippi State Supreme Court. He later became a Presiding Justice.
“I congratulate Justice Graves on his confirmation to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. I wish him the best as he begins this new position,” current Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said in a statement.
Along with his legal work and teaching career, Graves has been very active in local and national bar associations. According to information supplied by The White House, “Graves is currently a Fellow of the Mississippi State Bar, and has served on a variety of committees of the National Conference of State Trial Judges, working on issues of concern common to state judges. He also serves his state’s court system as the current Chair of the Mississippi Supreme Court Rules Committee on Criminal Practice and Procedure. He formerly served as Chair of the Mississippi Supreme Court Committee on Administrative and Related Matters, the Supreme Court’s Emergency Preparedness Committee, and Public Defender’s Task Force, among others.”
Graves is married to Bettye Ramsey Graves, Ph.D., associate vice president for enrollment management at Jackson State University. The couple has three sons, and are members of the New Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jackson.