Washington state gets first Native American justice
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee named Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis to the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, saying the appointment of the first Native American justice to the state’s highest court marked a historic day.
Montoya-Lewis, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Isleta who is the second American Indian justice in the nation, will be sworn in next month to fulfill the remaining year of Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst's term.
Fairhurst has said she would retire in January as she fights cancer. The seat is up for election in 2020, and Montoya-Lewis says she will run.
Though she is replacing the chief justice, Montoya-Lewis will not serve in that position. Justice Debra Stephens was elected by the nine-member court to take the top spot in January.
“It’s a great privilege and responsibility to sit on this bench with these extraordinary justices,” Montoya-Lewis said at a news conference at the Supreme Court. “I'm very honored to take the seat of Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, though I know I will never replace her.”
Officials with the state's Administrative Office of the Courts said they did not know of any Native American justices since the court was founded in 1889 but noted that the heritage of former justices may not be have been public.
Only one other state — Minnesota — has a Native American Supreme Court justice, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The Federal Judicial Center says two Native American judges are on the federal bench: Diane Joyce Humetewa in Arizona and Frank Howell Seay in Oklahoma.
Montoya-Lewis, who is also a descendant of the Pueblo of Laguna Indian tribes, said being the first Native American justice in Washington and second in the nation “brings with it great pressure and great honor.”
“I look forward to serving every citizen of the state of Washington, and in so doing, do justice," she said.
Montoya-Lewis, 51, was a Whatcom County Superior Court judge since 2015, previously served as chief judge for the Nooksack and Upper Skagit Indian Tribes in Washington and worked as an associate professor for Western Washington University. She also has served with the Lummi Nation Tribal Court and as a judge for the Northwest Intertribal Court System.
As a Superior Court judge, she has taught classes on implicit bias throughout the state to judges, court employees and others and said she would like to continue that work.
Inslee praised Montoya-Lewis’ “raw judicial talent.”
“To me, this was like drafting Michael Jordan and then finding out that he’s a great baseball player, too,” the governor said.
Besides Stephens, the state's other Supreme Court justices are Barbara Madsen, Charles Johnson, Susan Owens, Steven Gonzalez, Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Charles Wiggins and Mary Yu.