By Sharon Sakamoto
For Northwest Asian Weekly
For some time now, our state’s highest court has lacked a justice who can represent the many, many communities of color throughout Washington.
As noted in several recent articles and in ongoing community conversations, Gov. Chris Gregoire has a record short on the appointment of qualified persons of color to positions within her cabinet. Many explanations might exist for such statistics from the governor, who has spoken often of her commitment to diversity and its importance to her.
Still, our elected officials must seek out diverse voices and viewpoints if they mean to enrich our social fabric and maintain a core consciousness about diversity as a source of strength. When our institutions reflect our diversity, they become more effective for and meaningful to all of us, leading to better relations and cooperation among communities.
A justice system that doesn’t reflect the diverse components of the society it serves erodes people’s faith in the system. When disconnected from the legal system, people will act with limited regard for the laws and withdraw their participation. Our system of justice cannot be sustained without attorneys and judges that fully represent all of us, our diverse society.
Only with actual diversity in all components of the justice system, that is, in the making of laws and implementing and applying them to all people, will our society grow to trust the system and willingly live according to the rule of law.
We and our leaders must attend to making our society’s institutions reflect the diversity of our communities, especially in difficult times, whether economic or otherwise. Our government “of the people” requires that we sustain our efforts to make our institutions reflective of all of us. We must continue to maintain and improve diversity or, by fatigue, inattention and, neglect, we will allow the rich fabric of our society to fade and weaken.
Our governor has a significant and consequential opportunity to diversify our state’s Supreme Court in making an appointment to fill the seat to be vacated in December by Justice Gerry Alexander. King County Superior Court Judge Steven C. González, who was appointed to the bench by Governor Gary Locke in 2002, seeks the appointment.
Judge González, a fourth-generation American of Mexican and Jewish descent, learned to speak both Japanese and Chinese and studied in both countries. He did postgraduate studies in Sapporo, Japan, studying law at the University of California, Berkeley.
Judge Gonzales currently serves as an executive committee member and chair of the Washington State Access to Justice Board and is the Superior Court Judges Association liaison to that board. He is co-founder and co-chair of the Race and the Criminal Justice System Task Force and a founding member of the Initiative for Diversity. At this time, Judge González presides over criminal cases in King County Superior Court.
Gov. Gregoire should act to correct the glaring absence of color on our state’s Supreme Court bench. (end)
Sharon Sakamoto, of Sakamoto & Hamamoto LLP, is a Seattle-based lawyer who helped found the Asian Bar Association of Washington. She was an appointed commissioner on the City of Seattle Civil Service Commission for nine years and was an arbitrator on call for the New York Stock Exchange.
She can be reached at email@example.com.