Lisa Stark, Business Law Today editor-in-chief: Judge Montgomery-Reeves, you have been hailed as a trailblazer—the first-ever African American to serve as a Vice Chancellor of the Delaware Court of Chancery as well as the first African American associate justice and the youngest jurist to sit on the Delaware Supreme Court. You recently started a new position as a federal judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, having been nominated by President Biden, in June 2022.
What have been the key drivers of these tremendous accomplishments?
Judge Tamika Montgomery-Reeves: The two main reasons for my career accomplishments are sponsorship and timing. As I have said before, no one gets very far alone in life. I am here because I stand on the shoulders of giants. Many people came before me, in Delaware and on the federal bench, and those people paved the way for me to follow. I also have been extremely fortunate to have people, like former Chancellor William B. Chandler III, who not only mentored me but sponsored me during my career. Finally, I think it is important to put your name in the hat and to take chances on yourself, even if the timing and circumstances are not exactly what you had planned.
Lisa: Did you always want to be a judge?
Judge Montgomery-Reeves: I knew I wanted to be a lawyer in elementary school. I first developed an interest in the law from my grandmother. She grew up in Mississippi, and while she was not highly educated, she talked to me all the time about the importance of the law and knowing your rights. She talked to me about the inequities she witnessed growing up in Mississippi in the 1930s and 1940s, and she influenced me to pursue the study of law.
Lisa: What do you most enjoy about your job?
Judge Montgomery-Reeves: Finding the right answer. My role as a judicial officer is to study the record before me and the applicable law and come to the correct outcome based on that.
Lisa: Who have been the biggest influencers in your career trajectory?
Judge Montgomery-Reeves: My judicial mentor is Chancellor Chandler. He is very smart, and he works very hard. When I worked with him, he was in early, and he stayed late. He was constantly studying all things corporate law. He was a titan in corporate law, but you would never know that from the way he treated people. Every litigant, lawyer, law clerk, really anyone he encountered, he treated with the utmost respect. He is a person who cares deeply about other people, about making sure that everyone feels heard and is treated fairly, and you can see that in every interaction he has.
Lisa: You have worked to improve diversity in the judiciary. Is that something that you feel passionate about?
Judge Montgomery-Reeves: I think the judiciary should reflect the population it serves. And I think this for two reasons. First, having the judiciary reflect the whole population fosters trust in the judicial system, which is essential. Second, it allows children to see themselves in the people on the bench and start to think, “Hey, maybe I can do that too.”
Lisa: Studies have shown that more men than woman argue cases before the country’s high courts. What can we do to increase opportunities for women in the courtroom?
Judge Montgomery-Reeves: It is important that each of us recognizes that we all have the power to influence positive change whatever our position. For example, I make sure to treat every person before me, regardless of gender, with the same levels of engagement and respect. And I would encourage attorneys to consider who is arguing motions or presenting oral argument. If an associate drafted the motion, knows the entire record, and is going to prep the partner for argument, perhaps she should be the one arguing the motion instead.
Lisa: What are your favorite things to do when you are not on the bench?
Judge Montgomery-Reeves: I love to travel, eat good food, and spend time with my family and friends.