Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) appointed Judge G. Helen Whitener to the Washington Supreme Court on April 13, 2020. Whitener succeeded Justice Charles Wiggins, who retired in March. Whitener is Gov. Inslee’s third nominee to the nine-member supreme court.
Whitener has been a judge on the Pierce County Superior Court in Washington since 2015. From 2013 to 2015, she was a judge on the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. She was an attorney in private practice from 2005 to 2013.
Whitener earned her bachelor’s degree from Baruch College in New York and her J.D. from Seattle University School of Law. She is from Trinidad and moved to the United States as a teenager to attend college.
In the event of a midterm vacancy on the Washington Supreme Court, the governor appoints a replacement. 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. Wiggins’ seat will appear on the ballot in a nonpartisan election on November 3, 2020. Candidates will run to finish the last two years of his term, set to expire on January 8, 2023.
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 Whitener’s appointment, the other eight members of the court were:
• Steven Gonzalez – Appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) in 2011
• Charles W. Johnson – First elected in 1990
• Barbara Madsen – First elected in 1992
• Sheryl McCloud – First elected in 2012
• Raquel Montoya-Lewis – Appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee (D) in 2019
• Susan Owens – First elected in 2000
• Debra Stephens – Appointed by Gov. Gregoire in 2007
• Mary Yu – Appointed by Gov. Inslee in 2014
In 2020, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies across eight of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were all caused by retirements.