The (Slowly) Changing Face of Oregon’s Judiciary

By Mary Anne Anderson, USDCHS board member

In Spring 2013, Oregon Benchmarks noted that 114 women had served or were serving as state and federal judges in Oregon.  Three years later that number has increased to 137 women who have served (or will begin serving in 2017) in 176 different judicial offices in Oregon.

Would it surprise you to learn that only six of the 103 judges that have served on the Oregon Supreme Court in its 150+ year history—and only 12 of the 50 judges to serve on the Oregon Court of Appeals—have been women?  Over the past 15 years, the face of the Oregon judiciary has slowly shifted.  That change is evident in the roster of Oregon’s appellate courts, detailed on the Oregon Women Judges “Quick Facts” sheet.  It reveals that, by the early 2000s, only five women had served on the Oregon appellate courts since the first woman (Betty Roberts) was appointed 25 years previously.  The Oregon Women Lawyers Foundation “Five in Twenty-Five” event of November 20, 2002, celebrated the five women who at that time had served on the Oregon appellate courts, namely

Photo by Trudy Allen

Photo by Trudy Allen

(photographed) Susan Leeson, Betty Roberts, Susan Graber, Virginia Linder, and Mary Deits.  In the 15 ensuing years, the number of women who have served on the Oregon appellate courts has grown to 18 with the addition of Martha Walters (Oregon Supreme Court 2006), Lynn Nakamoto (Court of Appeals 2011-2016; appointed to Oregon Supreme Court 2016), Darleen Ortega (Court of Appeals 2003), Ellen Rosenblum (Court of Appeals 2005-2012), Rebecca Duncan (Court of Appeals 2010), Erika Hadlock (Court of Appeals 2011), Erin Lagesen (Court of Appeals 2013), and Meagan Flynn (2014).

This historical society (usdchs.org) and Oregon Women Lawyers (oregonwomenlawyers.org) have formed Oregon Women Judges (OWJ) for the purpose of collecting, preserving, and celebrating the histories and contributions of Oregon’s women judges.  Currently, the information gathered by OWJ is housed on the OWLS website.

Volunteers for OWJ are writing “profiles” of the women who have served or are serving in the Oregon state and federal judiciary, with a  goal of launching a website that creates a repository for those judicial profiles and shares statistics regarding the women judges of Oregon.  The OWJ website has hopes of inspiring women to continue to seek judicial office, especially in judicial districts where no woman has yet served, or in courts where women continue to be few in number.   Information on volunteering your time, talents, or resources to the OWJ project, as well as downloadable “quick facts” and other information on women in judicial office in Oregon may be located on the web page. Those interested in volunteering with OWJ are encouraged to do so, whether your skills are in research, interviewing, writing, data entry or website design and maintenance.

Author Mary Anne Anderson, current Secretary of the USDCHS, works in the chambers of the Honorable Youlee Yim You, the fifth woman to serve in Oregon as a U.S. Magistrate Judge.