EDITORIAL: Washington needs a Court of multitudes

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A cursory investigation into the depth of color on the Washington State Supreme Court reveals very little pigment. From 1988 to 2003, there was Charles Z. Smith, son of an African American mother and Cuban father.

Currently seated on the Court is Justice Steven Gonzalez, who is of Mexican and Eastern European descent.

That’s about it.

To the rescue, King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu has announced she wants the job when Gov. Inslee names a replacement for the retiring Justice James Johnson later this month. According to the Everett Herald, Judge Yu is one of 20 vying for the spot.

If Yu is chosen, she will be the third judge of color on the Court. Interestingly, all three are multiracial (Yu is Chinese and Mexican), which is an increasingly accurate reflection of the American populace.

When Yu, recipient of the 2014 Washington State Association for Justice “Judge of the Year” award, announced on Facebook her intention to apply for the seat, she got a fast 506 “likes.” This is a popular judge.

The type of diversity that a recent Seattle Times editorial promoted for the position needs to include choosing someone from Eastern Washington. But not Spokane, the Times added, because that’s Eastern Washington’s “most urban spot.” They want a justice who, like the retiring Judge Johnson, has “owned a water right,” possibly because of the growing number of water rights cases that end up in front of the Supreme Court. In other words, look backwards.

As the first Asian American on the Washington Supreme Court, Mary Yu would join the very short list of female Asian American judges to ever sit on our nation’s highest state courts.

There seems to have been about four: Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Filipino/Portuguese American on the California Supreme Court; Sabrina McKenna and Paula A. Nakayama, both of Japanese descent on the Hawaii State Supreme Court; and Joyce Kennard, of Indonesian descent, on the California Supreme Court.

In that realm, Yu would inspire confidence in a legal system that too often makes people of color feel powerless, misunderstood, and unrepresented. This country has a long history of white males passing judgment on its fellow citizens. It’s time for the Court to contain the same multitudes as those who are now, and will more so in the future, be looking to it for their most important recourse: justice.

The Chinese first came to this country to build railroads in California in the 1840s, and came to Washington State in the 1860s. Asians were used as “coolie” labor, enduring much suffering and discrimination. Judge Yu’s appointment to the highest court in the state is an opportunity for Gov. Inslee to do the right thing. (end)

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