OLYMPIA -- With people who inspired her at her side and others she hoped to inspire in the audience, Mary Yu was sworn in this afternoon to a state Supreme Court a seat she's likely have for at least two years despite facing election this fall.
No one filed to run against her last week, so barring an unprecedented write-in campaign in November, Yu, who is Gov. Jay Inslee's first appointment to the high court, will finish out the term of Justice Jim Johnson who retired last month. She said she was "perplexed and surprised" by the lack of opposition, but attributed it more to the short time potential challengers had to plan a campaign than to her strengths as a candidate.
"I'm relieved," she said in a brief meeting with reporters after the ceremony. "I'm delighted and happy."
She'll have to run for a full term in 2016, giving potential challengers both time to plan a campaign and a record of her decisions to use as ammunition.
Yu is the high court's first Asian, Latina and lesbian justice and as she took the oath of office, she had at her side three women who had been inspirations to her for their work for equal rights for the state's Asian, Latino and gay communities. In the audience were teens, many of them minorities, who had just attended a symposium on the juvenile justice system Yu had helped organize as the co-chairwoman of the Minority and Justice Commission. In the lobby was a draped portrait of former Justice Charles Z. Smith, the first minority member to serve on the court, scheduled to be unveiled in a few minutes.
It was important for those teens, particularly the ones who were minorities, to be in the Temple of Justice this day, Yu said. There was a clear message that "they could come here, too, and they could be a justice some day."
While Yu's move from King County Superior Court to the Supreme Court offers better representation for several different groups, it does not provide more representation for Eastern Washington residents. They make up more than 20 percent of the population but the nine member court has only one justice, Debra Stephens, from Eastern Washington.
Yu said she's not convinced justice is tied to where a person lives, but said she plans to get around the state in the coming months for her campaign, even though she has no opponent, with stops in Eastern Washington's cities and small towns.
"I need to make an effort to go out and hear what people's concerns are," she said.