Monday, September 17, 2012

Analysis: Daniels made the right court pick

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge lesley_stedman_weidenbener_-_mug_-_the_statehouse_file.jpg

Gov. Mitch Daniels said Friday he appointed Tippecanoe County Superior Court Judge Loretta Rush to the Indiana Supreme Court not because she was a woman but because she was the best candidate for the job.

I believe him.

And still, the appointment is an important one for Indiana.

There was tremendous pressure on Daniels to choose a woman to fill the seat left by retiring Justice Frank Sullivan. TheIndiana Supreme Court is one of the few in the nation without a female member. And in its long history, only one woman has ever served.

It's an almost unthinkable situation in a state that has had so many women serving as judges at every other level and has consistently had women serving in statewide elected positions, though never governor.

Women make up more than half of the residents of Indiana. They are roughly half of all the law school grads, about 30 percent of practicing attorneys in the state, and nearly one in five of the judges in county circuit and superior courts.

And twice before, the governor had passed on an opportunity to appoint a woman to the five-member Indiana Supreme Court, choosing instead to go with men he said were more qualified. That's why many thought Daniels had little choice but to pick a woman to replace Sullivan, who is moving into an academic career.

But this governor doesn't act simply because others think he should. His history suggests that he would not make an appointment or a decision to appease others. That is not in his nature.

I'd guess, in fact, that he'd have to fight the temptation to do the opposite of what folks are telling him he must do – only because he wouldn't want anyone to think he caved under pressure.

Earlier this year, Daniels said he'd "love nothing more" than to appoint a woman to the court and many other positions.

"Try to do it when I can," he said. "But it's a tiebreaker. We've got to have the best qualified judge, the best temperament. I want to see someone who will respect the boundaries and the separation of power and boundaries of judicial decision making."

In this case, it appears that Rush's gender was no tie-breaker. Daniels said she was the "best choice" among three finalists selected by the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission. The others were Hamilton County Superior Judge Steven Nation and Indianapolis attorney Geoffrey Slaughter.

Daniels said Rush had a "stellar legal and judicial career" and lauded her work to "bring reform and improvement to Indiana's child welfare system."

"Her jurisprudential philosophy and her commitment to judicial restraint are firm and forthright," Daniels said. "I have every confidence she'll serve Indiana with the distinction we've come to expect from our Supreme Court."

But regardless of whether Rush's gender helped her get the job, it is important now that she has it.

The voices on the state's highest court – the group that sets precedents and policies that affect Hoosier families, businesses and government – must be diverse.

That means the justices should come from different backgrounds and races. They should have practiced different types of law – criminal and civil – and have had varying specialties, be they probate or contracts or criminal defense work. And they should even come from different types of law schools, including the prestigious and the modest.

And of course, the court should be gender diversified as well. Just as people from different races or backgrounds or education view issues differently, so do men and women.

And those differences matter – to the state and its policies and laws.

Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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