Washington Supreme Court

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Washington Supreme Court
Seal of the Supreme Court of Washington.png
EstablishedNovember 9, 1889
Location Olympia, Washington, United States
Composition methodElection
Authorized by Washington State Constitution
Appeals to Supreme Court of the United States
Judge term length6 years
Number of positions9
Website Official website
Chief Justice
Currently Steven González
SinceJanuary 11, 2021
Jurist term ends2038
Associate Chief Justice
Currently Charles W. Johnson

The Washington Supreme Court is the highest court in the judiciary of the U.S. state of Washington. The court is composed of a chief justice and eight associate justices. Members of the court are elected to six-year terms. Justices must retire at the end of the calendar year in which they reach the age of 75, per the Washington State Constitution. [1]

The chief justice is chosen by secret ballot by the Justices to serve a 4-year term. The current chief justice is Steven C. González, who was elected by his peers on November 5, 2020. [2] González was sworn in as Chief Justice on January 11, 2021, succeeding Debra L. Stephens.

Prior to January 1997 (pursuant to a Constitutional amendment adopted in 1995), the post of chief justice was held for a 2-year term by a justice who (i) was one of the Justices with 2 years left in their term, (ii) was the most senior in years of service of that cohort, and (iii) (generally) had not previously served as chief justice. The last chief justice under the rotation system, Barbara Durham, was the architect of the present internal election system and was the first to be elected under the new procedure, serving until her resignation in 1999.

The court convenes in the Temple of Justice, a historic building on the Washington State Capitol campus in Olympia, Washington.

The persuasiveness of the court's decisions reaches far beyond Washington's borders. A Supreme Court of California study published in 2007 found that the Washington Supreme Court's decisions were the second most widely followed by the appellate courts of all other U.S. states in the period from 1940 to 2005 (second only to California). [3]


Members of the court are elected to six-year terms, with three justices elected in each even-numbered year in a nonpartisan election with a top-two primary. Judicial elections in Washington, including for the Supreme Court, are frequently uncontested and incumbents typically win reelection. [4] The last time a justice lost reelection was in 2010 when Charlies Wiggins defeated Richard B. Sanders, [5] who had previously defeated Rosselle Pekelis in 1995. [6] When chief justice Keith M. Callow lost to Charles W. Johnson in 1990, it was the first time in 40 years an incumbent had lost. [7]

The only required qualification for justices is that they are admitted to practice law in Washington. [8]

In case of a vacancy, the Governor of Washington may appoint a replacement who must stand in the next election to fill the unexpired term. [8] Five of the current nine judges were originally appointed.

Current justices

As of January 11, 2021: [9]

SeatPositionNameBornJoined the courtCurrent term endsReaches age 75Appointed byLegal education
8Chief Justice Steven González 1963 (age 5758)January 1, 2012 (as Associate Justice)
January 11, 2021 (as Chief)
January 12, 20252038 Christine Gregoire (D) University of California, Berkeley
4Associate Chief Justice Charles W. Johnson 1951 (age 6970)January 1, 1991January 10, 20272026 Seattle University
5Associate Justice Barbara Madsen 1952 (age 6869)January 1, 1993January 8, 20232027 Gonzaga University
2Associate Justice Susan Owens 1949 (age 7172)January 1, 2001January 12, 20252025 University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
7Associate Justice Debra L. Stephens 1965 (age 5556)January 1, 2008January 10, 20272040 Christine Gregoire (D) Gonzaga University
9Associate Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud October 5, 1955 (age 66)January 1, 2013January 1, 20252030 University of Southern California
1Associate Justice Mary Yu 1957 (age 6364)May 20, 2014January 8, 20232032 Jay Inslee (D) University of Notre Dame
3Associate Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis 1967/1968(age 52–54)January 5, 2020January 10, 20272043 Jay Inslee (D) University of Washington
6Associate Justice Helen Whitener 1964/1965(age 56–57)April 13, 2020January 10, 20272040 Jay Inslee (D) Seattle University


The early history of the Washington Supreme Court has been described as follows:

The constitution fixed the terms of supreme court judges at six years, and provided that the first judges should determine by lot, two to serve for three years, two for five years, and one for seven years. This was to prevent a too sweeping change of the court at any one time. The judge with the shortest term to serve is elected by the court as chief justice, which allows most of the judges to enjoy that honor in turn. Judge Dunbar is the only one who has served continuously through the life of this court. There are a few irregularities in the length of the terms. Judge Gordon resigned in June, 1900. Governor Rogers appointed William H. White to take his place. In November of the same year Judge White was regularly elected, but the term ended the following January. The Legislature in 1901 provided for the appointment of two judges to serve only until October, 1902. Governor Rogers appointed to these positions William H. White and Hiram E. Hadley. In 1905, the Legislature permanently increased the court from five to seven. Governor Mead appointed Herman D. Crow and Milo A. Root. At the next election, in 1906, those two judges were regularly elected for the terms expiring in 1909. After his election in November, 1908, Judge Root resigned. [10]

Candidates for election were originally nominated at party conventions, but in 1907 it became a direct nonpartisan election. [11]

Carolyn R. Dimmick was the first woman to sit on the court, taking her seat in 1981. Barbara Durham was the first female chief justice, selected in 1995. Charles Z. Smith, appointed 1988, was the first African American to serve on the court. Mary Yu became the first LGBT, Asian American, and Latina member in 2014. [12] A majority of justices has been female since 2013. After the appointment of Helen Whitener in 2020, the court was called "arguably the most diverse court, state or federal, in American history", [13] with various incumbents reflecting the state's white, black, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American, LGBT, immigrant, Jewish, and disabled populations.

Notable cases

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  1. "Washington State Constitution, Article IV § 3(a)". Archived from the original on July 24, 2019. Retrieved March 13, 2012.
  2. "Washington State Courts - News, Reports, Court Information". www.courts.wa.gov. Retrieved January 11, 2021.
  3. Dear, Jake; Jessen, Edward W (2007). "'Followed Rates' and Leading State Cases, 1940–2005" (PDF). U.C. Davis Law Review. 41: 683–694. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 18, 2014. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
  4. Cohen, Josh. "Most of WA's judges are running unopposed. Does it matter?". crosscut.com. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  5. Sanders, Eli (November 10, 2010). "How Justice Richard B. Sanders Lost It". The Stranger. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  6. "Supreme Court justice is ousted". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  7. London, Robb; Times, Special To the New York (September 28, 1990). "LAW; For Want of Recognition, Chief Justice Is Ousted". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  8. 1 2 "Washington State Courts - Supreme Court". www.courts.wa.gov. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  9. "Washington State Courts - News, Reports, Court Information". www.courts.wa.gov. Retrieved January 10, 2021.
  10. Edmond Stephen Meany, History of the State of Washington (1909), p. 366.
  11. "Brief History of the Washington State Supreme Court". Washington State Courts. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  12. La Corte, Rachel (May 1, 2014). "Mary Yu appointed to state Supreme Court". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on May 2, 2014. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  13. Stern, Mark Joseph (April 17, 2020). "Washington State Now Has the Most Diverse Supreme Court In History". Slate Magazine. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  14. Note, Recent Case: Washington State Supreme Court Declares Death Penalty Unconstitutional In Washington , 132 Harv. L. Rev. 1764 (2019).
  15. State v. Gregory, 427P.3d621 (Wash.2018).
  16. www.courts.wa.gov (September 30, 2021): “At the end of the day, it’s race”: Task Force on Race and Justice Presents Findings on Unequal Treatment in WA Criminal Justice System
  17. State v. Blake(Wash.2021). Text
  18. Johnson, Gene (February 25, 2021). "Washington state justices strike down drug possession law". AP News. Archived from the original on March 3, 2021. Retrieved March 6, 2021.