Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) appointed Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis to succeed Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst on the Washington Supreme Court. Fairhurst is retiring on January 5, 2020, for health reasons. Montoya-Lewis is Inslee’s second nominee to the nine-member supreme court.
At the time of her appointment to the state supreme court, Montoya-Lewis was a judge for the Whatcom County Superior Court. Gov. Inslee appointed Montoya-Lewis to this court on December 15, 2014. Before her appointment to that court, Montoya-Lewis served as the chief judge for the Nooksack and Upper Skagit Indian Tribes in Washington. Montoya-Lewis received her undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico. She received both her master’s degree in social work and her J.D. from the University of Washington. She is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Isleta and a descendant of the Pueblo of Laguna Indian tribes.
In the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement to the Washington Supreme Court. The appointee serves until the next general election, at which point he or she may run to serve for the remainder of the predecessor’s term. The nine justices of the supreme court compete in contested elections without reference to party affiliation and must run for re-election when their terms expire. Supreme court justices serve for six years.
Founded in 1889, the Washington Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has nine judgeships. As of December 2019, three of the court’s nine justices were appointed by Democratic governors. The other six were elected by voters.
In 2019, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies across 14 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Retirements caused 14 of the vacancies. Two former justices took jobs in the private sector. One vacancy occurred when a justice was elevated to chief justice of the court, one occurred when a chief justice died, and four others occurred when the justices were elevated to federal judicial positions.
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