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Inslee names Yu to state Supreme Court

Inslee and Yu arrive at the Temple of Justice where Inslee announced her appointment to an opening on the state Supreme Court.

OLYMPIA — In his first appointment to the state Supreme Court, Gov. Jay Inslee replaced that court's most conservative member with its first Asian-American, Latina openly gay member.

Inslee named King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu as the replacement for Justice Jim Johnson, who is stepping down in the middle of his term for health reasons. Yu will have to run for the seat in this year's elections.

In making the announcement, Inslee praised Yu as a judge with great intellect, dedication and compassion and “her personal story adds a unique perspective that is important as our state’s demographics continue to shift.” 

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Her father emigrated from China at age 7 and her mother from Mexico at age 2. Her parents met while working at a factory in Chicago. Mary Yu graduated from Notre Dam Law School, worked for the Archdiocese of Chicago and later the Washington state Conference of Catholic Bishops before joining the King County prosecutor's office, where she once served as top deputy for former County Prosecutor Norm Maleng. She was appointed to the Superior Court by then-Gov. Gary Locke in 2000 and served as a trial judge for the last 14 years.

After voters approved same-sex marriage in 2012, Yu performed the first gay wedding in King County at 12:01 a.m. on the day the law took effect. 

Johnson is a former assistant attorney general who handled many of the state's toughest cases, then had a private practice specializing in constitutional law where he was involved in several initiative campaigns. He wrote the initiative that gave the state its current Top 2 primary and successfully defended it before the U.S. Supreme Court. He won his seat in the 2004 election and was re-elected easily in 2010.

On the state Supreme Court, he was often a voice for a strict separation of powers and limited government. He was a dissenting voice on the landmark McCleary case that ordered the Legislature to do more to live up to its constitutional mandate that education of its children is the state's paramount duty.

Asked where she would put herself on the liberal to conservative spectrum, Yu replied: “I can't really say… I've never been wedded to a particular view or philosophy.” For a trial judge, philosophy isn't as important as applying the law to every day cases. 

She said she believes she and Johnson share more similarities than differences, including a commitment to the rule of law and resolving conflicts. 

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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