Gregory Kellam Scott (HDR ’98), the first and only Black justice on the Colorado Supreme Court, died March 31 at age 72. His historic legacy as an inspiration for the state’s Black community started largely at the University of Denver.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from Rutgers University and his JD from Indiana University, Scott and his wife, Carolyn, also a lawyer, moved to Denver in 1977.
Scott had been hired as an attorney in the Denver office of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. During this time, he also taught securities and other classes at what is now the Sturm College of Law, mentoring many aspiring Black lawyers.
At the time, fewer than 40 Black lawyers were working in Colorado, recalls Gary Jackson, a retired Denver County Court judge and co-founder of the Sam Cary Bar Association, named for the state’s first Black lawyer.
Scott, a passionate member of that association, was not only “very, very intelligent,” but also engaging, Jackson says.
Alfred Harrell remembers how Scott’s rise on the Colorado legal scene was greeted with enthusiasm. “I was a [Denver County Court] judge when he was appointed [to the Supreme Court],” says Harrell, now retired. “The judiciary was totally excited. I would overhear comments like: ‘It’s about time. This is long overdue.’”
The appointment was still fresh news when Scott reached out to Judge James Flanigan, who earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from DU and became Denver’s first Black deputy district attorney, Municipal Court judge and District Court judge.
Flanigan’s elections and retentions “were historical,” says Harrell, who also graduated from DU’s Sturm College of Law, where an endowed scholarship is named for him. So Scott called and picked Flanigan’s brain. “Here was another first—a first talking to a first.”
Harrell considers Scott one of the most humble jurists he ever knew. His courtesy and kindness extended to the DU students who took his classes. “His students just worshiped him. No one ever said anything negative or controversial about him. He was that gracious, knowledgeable and successful,” Harrell says.
Patty Powell was one of those students. “He was a giant,” Powell, now a Sturm College adjunct faculty member, told The Denver Post. “He was such an intellectual giant. He loved the law. He was a good person, too.”
Scott’s personality and professionalism also stood out to Rebecca Love Kourlis, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice who later directed the DU-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.
“He was collegial, always ready to listen to opposing views, and interested in improving the outcome through the process of debate,” Kourlis says. “He had a ready smile and an authentic interest in other people’s well-being.”
Scott made history in 1993 when Gov. Roy Romer appointed him to the Colorado Supreme Court. He served seven years on that bench, participating in about 1,000 opinions, including one upholding a state law that allows an 8-foot buffer between protestors and patients at abortion clinics. That law later was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Evans v. Romer, Scott and fellow justices blocked enactment of a 1992 Colorado constitutional amendment banning protections for the LGBTQ+ community. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that ruling too.
In 2000, Scott left the bench to be vice president and lawyer for Kaiser-Hill.
“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,” Scott noted when he left the court. “This has been the experience of a lifetime.”