“Trail-blazer,” “Role Model,” “Icon,” “Mentor,” “Legend” and “Heroine.” These are just a few words that have been used to describe the legacy of Justice Janie L. Shores’. But no words can truly describe this woman’s lasting impact on the legal profession and on women, not just in the State of Alabama, but nationally.
Justice Shores attended Judson College, a women’s college, from 1954-1956, earning pre-law credits before entering the Law School at the University of Alabama. Her class at the law school contained only four other female students. Yet, she excelled while there and served as Editor of the Alabama Law Review, graduating with honors in 1959.
Justice Shores worked as a legal secretary before law school and learned short hand dictation. This remarkable trail-blazer told Litigation and Commentary Review:
I had a real advantage when I finally got to law school. I did know how to take dictation and I took down every word the professors uttered, typed them up and studied them for the exams. I think I made good grades because I often answered the questions using the professor’s own words.
Justice Shores’ notes and outlines at the School of Law were legendary. For years after she graduated, countless students insisted that they succeeded in law school primarily because they relied on “the Jamie Shores notes.” I followed her in law school and heard many stories about how very, very smart this woman was. I actually used her summaries and fall into the category mentioned above.
Justice Shores became the first female law school professor in the state of Alabama, and one of the first in the South, when she became a professor at Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in 1965. In 1972, Justice Shores first ran for the Alabama Supreme Court, but lost in large part due to racial prejudices. In an interview, Justice Shores stated:
Race played a role in my race for other reasons as well. The Faulkner who was my opponent was a member of the so-called Sovereignty Commission, which like the White Citizens Council, had been formed to resist integration of the schools. His supporters spread the rumor that I was the wife of Arthur Shores, a prominent Black Birmingham lawyer whose home had been bombed more than once by anti-integration forces.
However, in 1974, Justice Shores ran again and won a seat on the Supreme Court of Alabama as a Democrat, becoming the first woman ever to be elected to that court. “I hope it has now been demonstrated that women can hold these positions and can be elected in Alabama, and I hope I have had some small part in letting women know to do that is possible,” she told the Birmingham News in an article that was published on March 29, 1975. She was the first woman ever elected to any appellate judicial post in the United States. Since braving those new frontiers, a full 30 percent of the United States’ appellate jurists are now women.
Justice Shores served with distinction on the Supreme Court of Alabama for 25 years. She participated in decisions of the Court that now shape the way people live and work in Alabama. Her influence has been, and will be, felt for generations.
My friend Howell Heflin, who served as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supeme Court and later as a U.S. Senator, called Justice Shores a “trail-blazer, a role model, a legend, and yes, a heroine,” in a 2002 speech to the Women’s Division of the Alabama State Bar.
In 1993, Howell recommended Justice Shores to President Bill Clinton for U.S. Supreme Court nomination, and she joined the shortlist of candidates for nomination. Even though Clinton ultimately nominated Ruth Bader Ginsberg for the seat, he appointed Justice Shores to the State Justice Institute, a private nonprofit entity focused on improving the administration and quality of state courts.
“During the time she served on the Court,” Howell said, “Janie never lost sight of the fact that she should eliminate barriers to equal opportunity for women.” Justice Shores accomplished much toward eliminating those barriers in her career, but she also took time to encourage and inspire young women in other ways. Howell credited Justice Shores with the success of “thousands of women who have profited by the doors she has opened, and helped keep open, in a male-dominated profession.”
There have been many tributes posted online to Justice Shores. One accomplished female lawyer stated: “Justice Shores inspired women to go to law school and to become appellate judges. She certainly paved the way for me. The State lost an icon today.” Another stated: “She was and remains my ideal of a female lawyer and jurist. . . . I admired her remarkable combination of wit, dedication to justice and ability to nail an issue head on without reservation.”
Judson College wrote a thoughtful remembrance to Justice Shores:
Today Judson finds great inspiration in the legacy of Justice Janie L. Shores, who “came before” many young women in legal professions in the state of Alabama… We are reminded that “mak[ing] the world a better place” is something that we all can and must do, and that our labor is for “all who come behind us.”
This is the legacy of Justice Shores, one that will never be forgotten, and it has influenced many people over the years in a positive manner. She was a great lawyer, a great judge, and an even greater person. Alabama is better because this woman – Justice Jamie L. Shores – came our way.