Black, Gay, Disabled Judge Appointed To Washington State Supreme Court, Making It The Most Diverse In U.S. History
Grace Helen Whitener, who was born in Trinidad and came to the United States as a teenager to obtain an education, is an advocate for diversity.
April 24, 2020 at 1:13 pm
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee appointed a Black, gay, disabled, immigrant woman, Grace Helen Whitener, to the Washington State Supreme Court bench.
The April 13 appointment makes the court the most diverse in the nation and the most diverse in U.S. history, reports Them.
Whitener, who was born in Trinidad and came to the United States as a teenager to obtain an education, is an advocate for diversity. She strives to make those in her courtroom feel included.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion needs to be at the forefront of our minds, not as an afterthought,” she said. “I believe as a marginalized individual, being a Black, gay, female, immigrant, disabled judge that my perspective is a little different. I try to make sure that everyone that comes into this courtroom feels welcome, feels safe and feels like they will get a fair hearing.”
Whitener is replacing Judge Charles Wiggins, who retired earlier this year, according to the governor's website.
“Judge Whitener inspires lawyers and non-lawyers alike with her relentless work to raise awareness for matters of race, justice and equity,” Inslee said. “She is tireless in her commitment to building a justice system that works for all, and as a Supreme Court justice, she will have an even greater platform to promote justice for everyone in Washington state.”
Before becoming the state's first Black Supreme Court judge to be a member of the LGBTQ community, the Seattle University School of Law graduate worked as a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. She then served as a judge on the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, and in 2015 she was appointed to the Pierce County Superior Court.
“We have a limited number of judges of color on our benches here in Washington state,” Whitener told TVW last year. “Having a judiciary that is reflective of the community that it serves is truly important in raising trust and confidence in the services that we provide as judicial officers.”
Last year, Whitener was awarded the Washington State Bar Association’s C.Z. Smith Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award, the King County Washington Women Lawyers President Award and the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association’s Diversity Award. She was also honored as the Seattle University School of Law’s Woman of the Year alongside her wife, activist Lynn Rainey, who also graduated from the school.
Back in December, Inslee also appointed the court’s first Native American judge, Raquel Montoya-Lewis. She and Whitener join a bench that will now see the most women serving on any state supreme court. The bench has seven women justices, including Chief Justice Debra Stephens, and only one white, straight male justice, reports Slate.
A 2019 study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that 24 states have no people of color serving on their supreme courts and 13 states have never had a person of color serve on the bench.
Get to know Whitener below: