When Justice Rita B. Garman retired from the Illinois Supreme Court on July 7, 2022, she did so as the longest-serving judge in Illinois. However, Garman’s road to the Court was not without its challenges.
She entered law school in the 1960s, when there were few women in the profession. She was one of only eight women in her law school class and was once told by a professor that she should give up her seat to “a more deserving male.”
Upon graduation, Garman found it difficult to find a job because, as one law firm remarked, “no one wants to talk to a woman.” Garman has said that the legal community in her hometown of Danville, Ill., wasn’t unkind, they just didn’t know what to do with a young woman lawyer with no experience.
However, through hard work and perseverance – traits for which she’s well-known – Garman went on to serve in private practice, as the Assistant State’s Attorney in Vermilion County, and as the first female judge in Vermilion County. When she was assigned to the Fourth District Appellate Court, she was the first woman to hold the role.
In this interview, Garman reflects on her trailblazing career, including becoming the second woman to sit on the Illinois Supreme Court (she served as Chief Justice from 2013 to 2016), and the lessons she has learned as a lawyer and justice.
Throughout her career, Garman has broken many glass ceilings and left a lasting impact on the profession. She did so again just before her retirement, recommending Justice Lisa Holder White to fill her seat on the Supreme Court, the first Black woman in this role.
This video was recorded on June 28, 2022, and originally published by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism on August 1, 2022.