King County Judge Mary Yu, age 56, will become the first openly gay justice on the Washington Supreme Court after being appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee yesterday. She will also be the first Asian-American and first Latina to serve as a justice in the Washington Supreme Court after she swears in later this month. Yu replaces Justice James Johnson, who retired earlier this week due to health issues.
It was a bold move for Gov. Inslee to replace the court’s most conservative member with its first Asian-American, Latina, openly gay justice; however Inslee called Yu the “right person for the right moment.” He praised Yu as a judge with great intellect, dedication and compassion.
Yu earned her law degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School and has since served 14 years on the King County Superior Court. She was a top deputy in the King County Prosecutor’s Office under the late Norm Maleng and began her public service career working for the Archdiocese of Chicago, first as an associate and then director of the Office for the Ministry of Peace and Justice. In 2011, she received the Outstanding Judge of the Year Award from the Washington State Bar Association, with current Supreme Court Justice Steven C. González, for work in researching and exposing racial disparity in Washington state’s criminal justice system. Yu also performed many of the same-sex marriages that took place in December 2012 when marriage equality took effect in Washington State.
Jim Johnson, who was viewed as the lone conservative on the court, questioned Inslee’s choice. “I retain my concern that this court still is not balanced and does not represent all the people of the state,” Johnson said.
Gov. Inslee stood by his decision. “I believe it is clear to everyone that Judge Yu has both the qualifications and experience to sit on our Supreme Court,” he said, “and her personal story adds a unique perspective that is important as our state’s demographics continue to shift.”
Yu’s appointment lasts until the end of the year. To keep the seat, she will need to run for election in November, when Washington voters will decide whether to elect her to finish out the remaining two years of Johnson’s six-year term.
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