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.
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.
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.