State Supreme Justice Mary Fairhurst
Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst listens to oral argument in the McCleary case (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Progressive Institute)

Mary Fairhurst, the dis­tin­guished Chief Jus­tice of the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court, will retire in Jan­u­ary to focus on her health, the Court announced today.

“It is with a clear head and a sad heart that I have made the deci­sion that it is time for me to leave the Court,” Fairhurst said in a state­ment. “It has been my hon­or and priv­i­lege to serve as a jus­tice of this court since 2003, par­tic­u­lar­ly as the Chief Jus­tice for the past three years. I am so proud of the work we’ve done as a branch dur­ing this time and feel the time is right to focus on my health.”

Fairhurst is bat­tling can­cer in mul­ti­ple organs (lungs, liv­er, thy­roid and spleen) and has been giv­en a diag­no­sis of between nine months and two years to live.

State Supreme Justice Mary Fairhurst
Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court Jus­tice Mary Fairhurst lis­tens to oral argu­ment in the McCleary case (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Pro­gres­sive Institute)

Fairhurst was part of the major­i­ty that brave­ly took a stand for major­i­ty rule in Wash­ing­ton State by strik­ing down Tim Eyman’s ini­tia­tives to uncon­sti­tu­tion­al­ly require a two-thirds vote to pass rev­enue bills.

Fairhurst also wrote the unan­i­mous major­i­ty opin­ion strik­ing down Wash­ing­ton State’s death penal­ty statute last year, a land­mark vic­to­ry for human rights.

And, in 2005, Fairhurst authored an excep­tion­al dis­sent dis­agree­ing that the so-called Defense of Mar­riage Act (DOMA) was constitutional.

What a lega­cy she leaves.

“I thank Chief Jus­tice Fairhurst for her com­mit­ment to serv­ing jus­tice for all Wash­ing­to­ni­ans,” said Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee, the state’s chief executive.

“She has led on access to jus­tice for low-income indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies, enhanc­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for women and minori­ties in the legal pro­fes­sion and work­ing to increase pub­lic legal edu­ca­tion for chil­dren and youth.”

“Mary’s remark­able lead­er­ship and tire­less com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment will con­tin­ue to have a pos­i­tive impact on our state long after she’s left the bench. I wish her the very best in a well-deserved retirement.”

Because Fairhurst is retir­ing pri­or to com­plet­ing her term, Inslee will appoint her suc­ces­sor. Inslee pre­vi­ous­ly appoint­ed Mary Yu to take the place of Jim John­son, and Yu remains in office today, hav­ing been retained by the voters.

Who­ev­er is appoint­ed will serve through Novem­ber of 2020 and pos­si­bly beyond. The seat will be con­test­ed dur­ing next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, along with the seats held by Debra Stephens and Charles John­son. Fairhurst’s cur­rent term was sched­uled to end in Jan­u­ary 2021, so she will be exit­ing about one year early.

In Wash­ing­ton State, Supreme Court jus­tices are elect­ed for six-year terms and are cho­sen by the vot­ers. The nine statewide posi­tions are all non­par­ti­san. The Court’s oral argu­ments are tele­vised, unlike those of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Vacan­cies, as allud­ed to above, are filled by appointment.

Fairhurst’s col­leagues will choose a new Chief Jus­tice to pre­side over the Court begin­ning in Jan­u­ary. The new Chief Jus­tice will be announced next month on the day after the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion con­cludes (Novem­ber 6th).

Inslee’s office will draw up a list of poten­tial can­di­dates to take Fairhurst’s place and care­ful­ly vet them. Inslee will then select a new Justice.

The last three jus­tices to be appoint­ed to the Court have all been retained by the vot­ers and remain on the Court today. Aside from Jus­tice Mary Yu, the list includes Jus­tices Debra Stephens and Steven Gon­za­lez, both appoint­ed by Inslee’s pre­de­ces­sor, Gov­er­nor Chris Gre­goire, in office from 2005–2013.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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