Note: The article and headline have been updated to correct the justice's age.
Gregory Kellam Scott, the first Black Colorado Supreme Court justice and one of its youngest, died Wednesday at age 72.
Scott is to date the only Black person to have served on the High Court, and was an appointee of Gov. Roy Romer. His term lasted from 1993 until his resignation in 1999.
“He felt, I think, an obligation to make sure that the experiences that he had had in life were voiced in the conversations where they would enrich the thought process,” said former Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis in a press release from the Supreme Court.
During his time on the bench, Scott issued a concurring opinion in the 1994 decision of Evans v. Romer, in which the Court blocked the enforcement of Amendment 2, a 1992 constitutional amendment prohibiting government protections for gays and lesbians.
"Amendment 2 effectively denies the right to petition or participate in the political process by voiding ... redress from discrimination. Like the right to vote which assumes the right to have one's vote counted, the right peaceably to assemble and petition is meaningless if by law government is powerless to act," he wrote.
Shortly before his retirement, Scott also authored an opinion upholding the creation of floating buffers at abortion clinics to protect patrons from being closely accosted by protesters.
Scott graduated from Rutgers University and earned a law degree from Indiana University. Prior to his court appointment, he was an attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission at the Denver regional office. He also worked as a professor at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law.
“At DU, he became a role model for hundreds of diverse law students and especially opening up the door and urging and suggesting that these law students become involved in legal work in corporations, businesses, in securities law,” said recently-retired Denver County Court Judge Gary M. Jackson.
Replacing Scott on the court was Nathan B. Coats, who would himself become chief justice before his retirement last year. At the time, Black attorneys lamented that the three finalists the nominating commission selected for the governor were white men.
"You'd just like to think that courts will have the kind of diverse presence that the state and country have, and that may not happen for a while," said Charles Casteel of Davis Graham & Stubbs.
Upon his retirement, Scott said, "I can only hope that I have applied the law according to the facts before the court so as to leave it and Colorado better than when I first arrived. This has been the experience of a lifetime.”
The citizen-led performance commission that recommended voters retain him in 1996 complimented Scott's "willingness to make himself available to give speeches about the legal system to high school, junior high school and community organizations throughout the state of Colorado."
He subsequently became the general counsel for Kaiser-Hill, the company that cleaned up the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Jefferson County.
Scott was active with the American, Colorado and Sam Cary bar associations, the latter of which is a professional association for Black lawyers. He also co-chaired a 1998 delegation to observe the presidential election in the African country of Gabon. The Sam Cary Bar Association in a statement called Scott one of its most loyal and passionate members, and said people there would "remember with great fondness his sharp wit, infinite wisdom, love of family, infectious laugh and signature bow ties."
Rutgers inducted him into its Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 1997, and he received an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from DU. During a 1993 commencement address at Cook College, Scott said the United States will be first among equals "only so long as we use all of our most valuable resource, our human capital."
The news of Scott's death comes one day after the legal community lost another trailblazing Supreme Court justice: Mary Mullarkey, the first female chief justice. She was 77.