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Editorial: Next choice for Indiana Supreme Court must be a woman

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Indiana Lawyer Editorial

“I have no doubt what the future looks like. The only question is, when will that future roll around?”

Well, it’s taken 11 years for that future to roll around.

The above words were spoken by Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard for a news story not long after Justice Robert Rucker was named to the court in 1999. Justice Shepard was expressing his confidence in the fact that the next choice for a justice on the high court here would be a woman.

We mean in no way to disparage the gentlemen who make up our Indiana Supreme Court, but if one looks at the historical makeup of the court strictly from a diversity standpoint, it’s not an attractive picture by the numbers: one woman, two African-Americans, 102 white men.

So if since May 25 you’ve spent more than 30 seconds talking with a woman lawyer who practices in Indiana, you’ve doubtless heard something along these lines: “How can we be one of only two states in the nation without a woman on our Supreme Court?”

That date, of course, is when Justice Ted Boehm announced that he will retire from the court later this year.

We truly hate to see him go, but his departure makes room for some gender diversity on our high court.

It wasn’t always so male.

The only woman and first African-American on the Supreme Court was Myra Selby, who was a justice from 1995 to 1999 before returning to private practice. The vacancy formed when she left was filled with Justice Rucker, who was elevated from the Indiana Court of Appeals.

At that time, women’s groups called for the expansion of the court to allow for more diversity, but to no avail. Indiana’s constitution allows for up to eight justices, but an expansion is an expensive proposition in any economic climate, and our state was in much better financial shape in 1999 than it is now.

Still, we take heart in what Chief Justice Shepard said 11 years ago on the subject of a woman becoming a member of the court: “It does matter that you have people from different walks of life, and both men and women. You get a healthy mix of experiences and ideas when the group isn’t all cut out of the same cloth.”

Amen to that.

In the same aforementioned news story, Indianapolis lawyer and Julian Center Executive Director Ann DeLaney was among those calling for an expansion of the court. She pointed out then that it could be years before any of the justices decided to retire.

She ended up being right, of course, but we also would remind readers of what she said on the subject then:

“Having an all-male court sends the wrong message.”

Amen to that, too.

Our research on the subject led us to story from a couple of years ago when some of our justices were facing a retention vote. Former justice Selby told us then: “… I’m a firm believer that our court is one of the most important aspects of our society, and it ought to reflect that society in order to remain vibrant and be a part of that fabric of what we’re all about. Having broken the barrier (of having a woman on the court) doesn’t mean we should rest. It’s still something that deserves our attention and focus.”

It is our sincere hope that the future Chief Justice Shepard looked to 11 years ago will soon be decidedly more female.•

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