Janie Shores Janie Ledlow Shores (1932-2017) was the first woman elected to the Alabama Supreme Court, serving from 1974 until 1999. She also became the first female full-time law school faculty member in the state when she joined the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in 1965. Shores was one of seven justices to oppose the reinstation of Roy Moore as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after his removal for violating federal orders in 2003.
Janie Ledlow was born on April 30, 1932, near Georgiana, Butler County, to John Wesley, a carpenter at the time of the 1940 Census, and Willie (Scott) Ledlow. Neither parent had more than an elementary education. Shores had at least one sibling, Verla, grew up in Baldwin County, and graduated from Robertsdale High School in Robertsdale.
After graduation, Shores worked as a legal secretary in Mobile, Mobile County, for Vincent F. Kilborn Jr., a sole practitioner who represented the Mobile Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. She had obtained that job by happenstance, moving to Mobile right after high school graduation and filling out a job application at an employment agency. One of her main tasks was taking dictation and writing in shorthand, which she believed later helped her do well in law school. Kilborn was the first person to suggest that she go into law and also the first person to suggest that she should go to college. She began taking classes at the University of Alabama‘s satellite campus in Mobile. Around the same time, she met Bill Ellzey, owner of a grocery store in Loxley. The couple married in 1953 and relocated to his hometown of Selma. There Janie took a secretarial job at Craig Air Force Base and continued her pre-law classes at the University of Alabama satellite campus there. She also took classes at Judson College in Marion, Perry County. in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, and Samford University in Birmingham, Jefferson County, where she earned pre-law credits.
She enrolled at the University of Alabama Law School, when there were only four other women in her cohort. She served as editor of the Alabama Law Review and graduated with honors and at the top of her class in 1959. Students at the law school used her notes and outlines for years after she graduated. Shores went on to clerk for Justice Robert T. Simpson Jr. at the Alabama Supreme Court. As civil rights actions heated up in Selma and other areas of Alabama during this period, friction developed between Janie and Bill because of his family’s involvement in the white supremacist White Citizens’ Council. They opposed her support for presidential candidate John F. Kennedy and were close friends with notorious law enforcement officer Jim Clark, who later oversaw the attacks of marcher on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The couple divorced in 1961. That same year, she met Birmingham attorney James L. Shores, who shared a practice with progressive attorneys Chuck Morgan, Tom King, and Bob Vance, while volunteering for King’s campaign for the Alabama State Senate. The couple married in 1962 and would have one daughter.
Justice Janie Shores Shores began practicing law before women were even allowed to serve on juries in state level courts, which changed in 1966, after a lawsuit brought on behalf of black citizens in Lowndes County. The court case, White vs. Crook, ruled that white women and African American men and women must be allowed to serve on juries. Shores opened her own practice in Selma because no law firms would hire women. In Selma, Shores found the law community to be welcoming, but the by-laws had to be amended for a woman to become a member of the Dallas County Bar Association. African American lawyers were still not allowed, so the terminology was simply changed from “white male” to “white.” Shores then joined the legal staff of the Liberty National Life Insurance, working there from 1961 to 1965. In 1965, when she joined the faculty at the Cumberland School of Law, she was the first full-time female law school faculty member in Alabama, and the second in the Southeast. During the governorship of Albert Brewer (1968-1971), Shores served on the Alabama Constitutional Revision Commission, a panel Brewer convened to reform Alabama’s Constitution. The commission submitted a report to the legislature in 1973 but the effort was disregarded.
Janie Shores and Richard Arrington Her path to the Alabama Supreme Court was not easy, and race played a prominent role in her unsuccessful bid in 1972. Shores had no opponent until the final day to qualify to run, but by the end of that day, she had four opponents, including lawyer James Faulkner. His supporters spread rumors that Shores was married to Arthur Shores, the noted black lawyer from Birmingham, who had actually been the victim of segregationist attacks. Faulkner narrowly beat out Shores in the runoff, but in 1974, when she ran again, she was elected to the Supreme Court and became the first woman to sit on the court.
In 1993, Pres. Bill Clinton considered Shores for a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court after the retirement of Justice Byron White. Clinton’s first choice was then-governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, who declined. Shores’s friend and colleague, U. S. Senator Howell Heflin recommended her to Clinton, citing her tenure on the Alabama Supreme Court. The appointment, however, ultimately went to the much better-known Ruth Bader Ginsberg. In 1992, Shores earned her master’s in law from the University of Virginia. Clinton later appointed Shores to the State Justice Institute, a private nonprofit entity that focuses on improving the administration and quality of state courts, in 1995.
Shores did not seek reelection in 1998 but served as a supernumerary justice until 2001, when then-Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore dismissed her and replaced her with Justice Hugh Maddox, who had previously been retired. A supernumerary judge is a judge who has retired from full-time work but still works part-time. The role has various functions in different places, but is often used in Alabama, where chief justices can appoint supernumeraries to any court in the state. In 2004, Shores was one of seven randomly appointed members of a special state Supreme Court that unanimously upheld the ouster of Moore as chief justice the previous year. Moore had refused the order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments he had placed in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building and was removed from his office by a Federal court.
Shores consistently won accolades for her work through her life. In 1984, she was recognized by Ladies’ Home Journal with the “American Heroine Award,” and in 1990 was listed as one of the Top Ten Women of 1990 by the Birmingham Business Journal. In 1997, she received an honorary Doctor of Law from Judson College and was asked to give the commencement speech at Judson as well. In 2015, Shores received the Sam W. Pipes Award from the University of Alabama School of Law for distinguished service to the Bar, to the University of Alabama, and the School of Law. A number of awards and scholarships are named for her, including the Justice Janie L. Shores Scholarship established by the Woman’s Section of the Alabama State Bar and annually awarded to one or more female Alabama residents who attend an Alabama law school. The Litigation Counsel of America has annually awarded the Janie L. Shore Trailblazer Award in her honor since 2011, and she was also the Litigation Counsel of America’s first female Honorary Fellow.
Shores retired to Fairhope, Baldwin County, where she died on August 9, 2017, at the age of 85 after suffering a stroke. She is remembered as a trailblazer for women in Alabama as well as women in the legal profession. In 2020, Shores, along with the late Mother Angelica who founded the Eternal Word Television Network and Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, were inducted posthumously into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame at Judson College.