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Monday, June 24, 2024
Britney Deas at Levin College of Law on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024.
Britney Deas at Levin College of Law on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024.

Britney Deas couldn’t keep her smile hidden as she opened her email. An unassuming email, something she thought was about administration, was actually announcing one of the biggest achievements in her career: becoming the first Black woman to be chief justice of the UF Supreme Court.

Deas is a 25-year-old Haitian UF Levin College of Law student. Florida has always been her home. She was born and raised in Miami, moved to Tampa when she attended the University of South Florida for her undergrad and now lives in Gainesville. 

Deas wanted to build a respectful career in Florida and make a difference, she said, and UF law was her way to do that. 

She received the email congratulating her on her position Jan. 31 and announced her position on Instagram on the first day of Black History Month. 

She said she believes there is a significance in her new position being announced so close to Black History Month. Black history needs to be celebrated every day, she said. 

“Black history is American history,” Deas said. “It’s important to know where you come from so you can know where you’re going.”

Deas joined the UF Supreme Court in Spring 2023 as an associate justice. She was aiming to become chief justice in Fall 2024. 

Now, she has begun her time serving as chief justice with new responsibilities. Despite the work cut out for her, she said this is one of the most special moments in her time at UF law because she made history. 

But it’s not the first time she’s done it.

During her time at USF, she was the first Black woman to be student body president and the first woman to hold the position in 20 years. She became involved in student government as a street teamer, a volunteer position to help get students interested in SG, her freshman year. She was then elected as a senator, where she received the Senator of the Year award. 

She took two other administrative positions before becoming president.

“Breaking down barriers for Black women and women in general has always been profound and deeply, deeply meaningful to me,” she said.

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As chief justice, she wants to uphold her goal of serving people, she said. 

She’s in charge of overseeing hearings and acts as the point of contact for anything being submitted for review. She, alongside the four associate judges, hears appeals, ensures fairness and resolves disputes that are brought to the court. 

She said the most frequent work they’ve done since she’s been on the court is settling disagreements between members of SG. 

She had her first meeting as chief justice within a week of her appointment. Because the student senate failed to fill vacancies in the elections committee on time, the court had to meet to appoint members to fill those spots. 

Deas has begun outlining her goals for her term as chief justice, including creating a law school checklist for undergrad students interested in applying, hosting a panel of constitutional lawyers professors and inviting Florida judges, attorneys and public defenders to speak about their careers. 

Her achievement being the first Black woman in her position means more than adding something to her resume. 

“The most important aspect of representation is… knocking down self doubt,” Deas said. 

Once she saw someone who looked like her do something, she realized she could do it too, she said. She wants to be that for other students.  

After she became student body president at USF, the next two people to take the position were women. 

“You can see the chain reaction that [representation] sets forth,” Deas said.

Judelande Jeune, a 28-year-old first-year attorney, met Deas at USF. Deas had approached Jeune, who was in SG, wishing to get involved. They eventually both connected as two Haitian women passionate about their work, Jeune said. 

She encouraged Deas to run for senator and get experience with a campaign. 

“I remember when she was running for senate, she made her own T-shirts… that’s how dedicated she was,” Jeune said. 

She was thrilled when Deas became student body president, she said. She felt the same when Deas told her about her new role as chief justice. 

“It's kind of one of those surreal moments because there wasn't a lot of minority involvement in student government in terms of like Black women,” Jeune said.

The need for women of color in positions of power is something Jeune will always see the value in, she added. 

“Even being an attorney now, I can see working on a case and how my perspective and background could just bring a different light and a different point of view,” she said.

Joanna Auchettl, an adviser at Levin College of Law, first interacted with Deas at a luncheon at the law school. She was later assigned to be Deas’ adviser. 

“My biggest goal is to provide support for the law students and help guide them,” Auchettl wrote in an email. 

Her goals didn’t change when it came to Deas. 

“Since I began working with Britney,” Auchettl said, “I have tried to encourage and support all of her endeavors. It is exciting to learn about her accomplishments.” 

She believes this is a momentous accomplishment not only for Deas but also for the school.

Deas is still excited about her achievement, and she carries her inspirations with her. 

“I was always inspired by women fighting oppression and women who are standing up for people who cannot stand up for themselves,” Deas said. “I saw it in my home with my grandmother, my great grandmother and my mother.”

Britney Deas remembered her mother telling her she had three strikes against her since she was a Black woman from an immigrant family. It drove her to work harder. 

When she became the first Black woman to be student body president, the Tampa Bay Rays wanted to honor her during a baseball game for Jackie Robinson Day. She stood centerfield in the baseball stadium, her mother beside her. 

“What is baseball known for?” Deas said. “Three strikes…. My three strikes was exactly why I was being celebrated.”

Contact Delia Rose Sauer at Follow her on X @_delia_rose_.

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Delia Rose Sauer

Delia Rose Sauer is a second-year journalism major and the graduate & professional school reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she loves drawing, crocheting and exploring music genres.

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