Race, gender debate brewing after Fani Willis’ hearing testimony: ‘High-profile Black woman’

Fani Willis Nathan Wade

A conversation about race and gender is  beginning to brew as Georgia prosecutor Fani Willis attempts to maintain her post as the lead prosecutor in the election racketeering case against former President Trump.

Willis, the district attorney for Fulton County, Georgia, previously said the allegations brought against her of having an “improper” romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade were made because she is Black.

Now, a little more than a month after making that claim, a handful of Willis’ proponents are echoing her position.

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, the presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Georgia, told the New York Times he believes Willis wouldn’t be facing the allegations of misconduct if she were “not a woman and Black.”

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Willis, the district attorney for Fulton County, Georgia, previously said the allegations brought against her of having an “improper” romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade were made because she is Black.

Fani Willis, Nathan Wade

“If she was not a woman and Black, I don’t think she would have gone through this,” said Jackson, whom the outlet noted has prayed with and counseled Willis in private in recent weeks.

“What this was all about was distraction and delay,” he added. “I think it’s time to move on.”

Kamina Pinder, a law professor at Emory University, told the outlet she knows Black women face “unique challenges” when holding positions of power.

“Everything she does is going to be scrutinized, so for her to do this is just bizarre,” Pinder told the outlet. “As a Black woman, I know there are unique challenges when you’re in a position of power, but that doesn’t excuse behavior that was dubious and unethical.”

Similarly, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, a Democrat who was the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate, suggested Willis is a “bigger target” for opponents because she is a “high-profile Black woman.”

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“Obviously, it was in somebody’s interest to bring her down,” Braun told the Times earlier this week. “The fact that she’s a high-profile Black woman just means that she’s a bigger target.”

Carol Moseley Braun

“The fact that she’s a high-profile Black woman just means that she’s a bigger target,” former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., said of Willis. (Bridget Bennett for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

An article from the Associated Press this week also pointed out the narrative that Willis is facing political turmoil due to her race.

“It absolutely feels familiar. There is no secret that the common sentiment among Black women in positions of power (is that they) must over-perform to be seen as equals to their counterparts,” Jessica T. Ornsby, a family litigation attorney in the Washington, D.C., area, told the outlet.

“Here, Ms. Willis is being scrutinized for things that are not directly related to her job performance, in ways we see other Black women regularly picked apart.”

Court documents filed last month claimed Willis hired Wade, her alleged partner, to prosecute Trump and benefited financially from the relationship in the form of lavish vacations the two went on using funds his firm received for working the case.

After the allegations were made, Willis spoke on the matter at the Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta, where she said the claims against her were based on her race.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks in the Fulton County Government Center during a news conference Aug. 14, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

“They only attacked one,” she said at the time. “First thing they say, ‘Oh, she’s gonna play the race card now.’ … But no, God, isn’t it them that’s playing the race card when they only question one?”

Fulton County records show Wade has been paid nearly $654,000 in legal fees since January 2022, an amount authorized by the district attorney, or Willis in this case.

The filing also calls for the entire district attorney’s office, including Willis and Wade, to be disqualified from prosecuting the case.

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Willis said last month that John Floyd and Anna Green Cross, both prosecutors assigned to the case, are both white and were not targeted.

“Isn’t it them playing the race card when they constantly think I need someone from some other jurisdiction in some other state to tell me how to do a job I’ve been doing almost 30 years,” Willis questioned.

Earlier this week, Willis took to the witness stand at an evidentiary hearing regarding her relationship with Wade.

Fani Willis testifying

Fani Willis testifies at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta Feb. 15, 2024. (Alyssa Pointer)

Willis’ testimony was marked with notable hostility on Thursday, with the prosecutor calling some of the allegations “dishonest” and “extremely offensive.” At one point, Willis held up a printed copy of the allegations against her in both hands and turned to the judge, yelling, “This is a lie!”

Willis also called defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant’s interests “contrary to democracy.”

Trump was indicted by Willis in August and pleaded not guilty to charges related to allegedly attempting to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, including violation of Georgia’s anti-racketeering law.

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