When Mary Fairhurst, at the time chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court, announced in October that she was stepping down to focus on her cancer treatment, the wheels of replacement quickly began to turn.
When any state high court justice leaves the post midterm, the job falls to the governor and his or her staff to recruit, vet and appoint the replacement. And there’s a routine for filling those seats, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s communications office.
- Inslee’s legal team posts job ads and begins recruitment.
- Once a list is compiled, the legal team interviews candidates, whittles down the list, and conducts reference checks and further vetting on the finalists.
- Inslee is briefed on the finalists, then meets with them.
- Ideally, the appointment is announced shortly after the meetings with Inslee.
In Fairhurst’s case, she announced Oct. 3 that she would step down in January. On Dec. 4, Inslee announced Fairhurst’s replacement, Raquel Montoya-Lewis, who was sworn in Jan. 6.
Once again, those wheels are turning. Citing a desire to spend more time with his family, Justice Charles Wiggins revealed Jan. 16 that he will leave the court at the end of March.
The ads are posted and the recruitment is underway, according to Inslee’s communications office. The cutoff date for candidates to apply, Feb. 18, is rapidly approaching.
Inslee, a Democrat who took office in 2013, touts the importance of diversity in his personnel decisions — race, creed, color, culture, sexual orientation — as demonstrated by his two previous appointments to the state Supreme Court.
Montoya-Lewis, formerly a Whatcom County Superior Court judge and chief judge for three tribes headquartered in the northwest part of the state, is the first Native American on the state Supreme Court. Inslee’s previous appointment to the high court, King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu in 2014, is the court’s first Asian American, Latina and openly gay justice.
Now, with Wiggins’ plans to retire, Inslee has been gifted a perfect chance to widen his own horizons of inclusion. It’s time for the governor to promote diversity of geography. Nineteenth-century newspaperman Horace Greeley might or might not have said “Go West, young man,” but we call on his spirit anyway and implore our governor to look to the east.
Inslee’s next appointment to the high court ought to come from this side of the Cascades.
Of the nine justices, only one — Chief Justice Debra Stephens, from Spokane — hails from our portion of the state. Of the remaining eight justices, six are from the greater Puget Sound area, one is from Whatcom County (Montoya-Lewis), and one hails from Clallam County (Susan Owens).
It cannot be good to have roughly two-thirds of the state’s geographical region — an area that differs from the much more densely populated west side in topography, climate, economy and, especially, politics — so vastly underrepresented on the state’s highest court.
Inslee must know this. He’s one of us … well, he was one of us, for a while. He spent several years in the Yakima Valley, as an attorney in Selah, as a state legislator and as U.S. representative from our own 4th Congressional District for a single term.
Said Inslee at the time of Montoya-Lewis’ appointment: “She is the kind of exceptional judge that Washington deserves on its highest court. … I think she is uniquely familiar with the challenges of smaller communities, rural communities and tribal communities and is a perfect fit for this job.”
Said Inslee at the time of Yu’s appointment: “I believe it is clear to everyone that Judge Yu has both the qualifications and experience to sit on our Supreme Court. And her personal story adds a unique perspective that is important as our state’s demographics continue to shift.”
What we want to hear from Inslee in a couple of weeks: “With years of exceptional service in the eastern portion of our great state, this outstanding jurist will bring invaluable perspective and life experience to any and all cases before the court but especially to those cases that are particularly relevant to the large expanse of Eastern Washington. This is a much-needed voice for all of Washington.”
It’s time for that much-needed voice to take its place on the Washington Supreme Court.