LOS ANGELES – Laphonza Butler was officially sworn in Tuesday to serve out the remainder of the late Dianne Feinstein’s term in the U.S. Senate, just two days after she was tabbed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill the seat.
Butler will fill out Feinstein’s term that runs through the end of 2024. She was sworn in on the Senate floor by Vice President Kamala Harris. Feinstein died Thursday night at her home in Washington, D.C., at age 90.
With her swearing in, Butler became California’s first openly LGBTQ U.S. senator and the first Black lesbian to openly serve in Congress in American history. She is the second Black woman to represent California in the U.S. Senate, following Harris.
#JSUAlums: JSU alumna @LaphonzaB was appointed by Gov. @GavinNewsom to fill the Senate seat of the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Butler is a 2001 political science graduate. We extend congratulations to Butler on this achievement!— Jackson State U. (@JacksonStateU) October 2, 2023
📰 | https://t.co/72dY3fhiHH pic.twitter.com/dOb7c7jJXS
“I’m honored to accept (Newsom’s) nomination to be U.S. senator for a state I have made my home and honored by his trust in me to serve the people of California and this great nation,” Butler wrote on X, formerly Twitter, Monday morning.
“No one will ever measure up to the legacy of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but I will do my best to honor her legacy and leadership by committing to work for women and girls, workers and unions, struggling parents and all of California. I am ready to serve.”
Butler was serving as president of EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to electing women who support abortion rights, but she stepped down from that role to serve in the Senate.
It was unclear if Butler plans to enter the race to for a full term in the California Senate seat. Already in the field of candidates seeking the position are Reps. Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee and Katie Porter.
Newsom had vowed to appoint a Black woman to the Senate seat if it became open. He announced Butler’s appointment Sunday night.
“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the United States Senate,” Newsom said in a statement announcing the appointment. “As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault. Laphonza will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington D.C.”
Butler ran political campaigns for and led strategy efforts for Harris and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For more than a decade, she served as president of Service Employees International Union Local 201, which represents more than 325,000 nursing home and home care workers in California and is the state’s largest labor union, and she held other leadership positions in the union.
Butler was the director of the Board of Governors of the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve System. In 2018, she was appointed to the University of California Board of Regents by Gov. Jerry Brown, where she served until 2021. She served in various other roles, including as a board member for the National Children’s Defense Fund, BLACK PAC, and the Bay Area Economic Council Institute, and as a fellow for the MIT Community Innovators Lab. Butler was named a “Champion for Change” by President Barack Obama.
She received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Jackson State University.
Butler is married to her wife, Neneki, and together they have a daughter, Nylah.