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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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December 4, 2007 10:17 AM

Gregoire makes her first Supreme Court appointment

Posted by David Postman

Court of Appeals Judge Debra Stephens is the newest member of the state Supreme Court. Gov. Christine Gregoire made the appointment this morning. Stephens will replace retiring Justice Bobbe Bridge.

Stephens has been on Division III of the Court of Appeals since Gregoire appointed her to that position seven months ago. It's a quick climb up the judicial ranks for Stephens, who had practiced appellate law in her hometown of Spokane. According to Gregoire's announcement, Stephens

has appeared before the Washington State Supreme Court over 100 times, the Washington Court of Appeals, the Idaho Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and as the counsel of record in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even Stephens' scant judicial experience means she has more time on the bench than five of her new colleagues did before they got to the high court.

Stephens' was not a name I had heard was under consideration until just Monday. There has not been an Eastern Washington justice on the court since the former Chief Justice Richard Guy retired in 2000.

Gregoire was interested in giving Eastern Washington a presence on the court and maintaining the current gender balance on the court. Stephens was elected to the Appeals Court seat this fall after running unopposed. That likely played into Gregoire's decision as well. A judge who faced a tough re-election wouldn't have been an easy choice. Stephens will have to run for election next November. Some names rumored to be under consideration for the job had been unsuccessful candidates for election to the court. I thought it unlikely Gregoire would do that, in part because it could be seen as second-guessing the voters, and it would not be the best strategic move to choose someone who lost an election and then make him or her run the next year.

Gubernatorial appointments to the court can find themselves hurt — or I suppose helped — by the fortunes of the governor.

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