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Inslee Appoints First Openly Gay Supreme Court Justice

Austin Jenkins
King County Judge Mary Yu has been appointed to Washington Supreme Court.

Gov. Jay Inslee has appointed King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu to the Washington Supreme Court. Yu replaces two-term Justice James Johnson who stepped down this week for health reasons. Johnson was viewed as a lone conservative voice on the high court.

Yu will be the first woman of color, the first Asian-American, the first Latina and the first openly LGBT justice on our state's highest court.  

Bruce Hilyer, a former King County Superior Court judge, has already announced his candidacy. He previously ran for the Supreme Court in 2012 and lost.Yu’s appointment runs until the end of this year. There will be a special election in November to decide who will serve out the remaining two years of Johnson’s term.

Appointed Justices Get Electoral Advantage

Historically, gubernatorial appointments to the Supreme Court have an advantage in the election. However, that’s not always true.

In 1995, then-Governor Mike Lowry appointed Court of Appeals Judge Rosselle Pekelis to fill a vacancy on the court. Nonetheless that November, Bellevue lawyer Richard Sanders defeated Pekelis in the special election. Sanders, who established a reputation as a libertarian and frequent dissenter on the court, went on to serve until 2010 when he was defeated.

More recently gubernatorial appointments to the high court have gone on to win their elections.

Most recently Justice Steven Gonzalez was appointed in late-2011. Then-Governor Chris Gregoire named Gonzalez as the second Latino to serve on the state’s highest court. He replaced former Chief Justice Gerry Alexander who was forced to retire at age 75. Gonzalez later won a six-year term to the court.

Before that, Gregoire appointed Justice Debra Stephens of Spokane, a Court of Appeals judge, in December of 2007 to replace retiring Justice Bobbe Bridge. Stephens also went on to win her election.

Appointment Won't Remake Court

Inslee’s appointment of Yu is not expected to dramatically shift the balance of the Washington Supreme Court or change the outcome of most cases. However, it could have an impact on the number of 5-4 decisions. And for conservatives, Johnson’s departure from the court before his term expired is viewed as a significant loss. 

The Washington Supreme Court has nine members who serve six-year terms.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.