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The National Women's Political Caucus of Washington State is a grassroots, multi-partisan, volunteer-run, membership organization dedicated to increasing women's participation in the political process and getting more feminist women elected and appointed in Washington State. The NWPC is a national organization that was founded in 1971 and has chapters in 20+ states.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Smart Women Salon: The Women of the Washington State Supreme Court

Justice Fairhurst, Chief Justice Madsen,
Justice Stephens

On Wednesday, June 1, 2011, NWPC-WA hosted a Smart Women Salon in collaboration with Washington Women Lawyers that featured a panel discussion with the women of the Washington State Supreme Court: Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, Justice Susan Owens, Justice Mary Fairhurst, and Justice Debra Stevens. The panel was moderated by King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu and was the largest Salon yet, with nearly 60 women in attendance!
The Justices answered questions ranging from how a woman’s presence on the Court changes how it functions, to what advice they had for younger women entering politics.
Chief Justice Madsen commented that she didn’t think that ordinarily, women’s presence has an impact on the Court’s decisions; however, she said there have been cases when the women judges have held an opinion opposite the male judges.  An example was a case when a domestic violence issue was before the court and the male men didn’t view it as domestic violence, while the women did.  The women on the court found themselves explaining to the men that the incident - in this case, where a man pushed his spouse to the ground, was in fact domestic violence and needed to be treated as such. However, cases like that are not the norm on the court and the biggest influence women have on the court is in setting the agenda.
Justice Fairhurst emphasized that the court needs to focus on diversity in gender, but also ethnicity, age, and other criteria.
In 2003, the Court had a female majority. The Justices noted that women, being used to male majorities in professions such as law, think nothing of it, but when men saw the women sitting or conversing together, they immediately saw it as a conspiracy. The women learned that there are still struggles for women in the working world.
Finally, the Justices gave their advice to the women in the room. Justice Owens said that when one runs for election, they need to be prepared to find out that someone they think supports them, doesn’t. She said, “Some people will vote for you because you’re the incumbent and some people will vote for you because they like you. Some people won’t vote for you because you’re the incumbent, and some people won’t vote for you because they don’t like you.” 
The other Justices said that a candidate needs to know and be able to articulate why she wants the position she is running for, what she can bring to the job, and why she is passionate about it. In addition, young women specifically need to remember that they can balance a family and a career, and that it is possible, often necessary, to do both.  The biggest piece of advice they gave to women was to not forget where, as women, we have come from and the struggles we have faced. Be grateful, reach out, and believe you can make a difference.
At the end of the event, Justice Fairhurst took a point of privilege to ask the women in the room to believe in miracles.  She was recently diagnosed with stage four terminal cancer and distributed purple wrist bands to the attendees with “Believe in Miracles” inscribed on them. Justice Fairhurst said that, in addition to hoping for a miracle for her cancer, she was also hoping for world peace. “Might as well dream big,” she said.
Guest Blogger, NWPC Intern, Anita Yandle

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