First Native American justice appointed to Washington State Supreme Court

Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis answers questions from the press after Gov. Jay Inslee announced her appointment to the Washington State Supreme Court. (Office of the Governor photo)

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis was appointed to the state Supreme Court Wednesday by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who said she will be the first Native American justice to serve on the state’s highest court.

Montoya-Lewis, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Isleta and a descendant of the Pueblo of Laguna Indian tribes, will be sworn in next month to fulfill the remaining year of Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst's term, and the seat will be open for election in 2020. Montoya-Lewis will not serve as chief justice on the nine-member court.

Justice Debra Stephens was elected by her fellow members of the court to take that top spot, and will be sworn into her new role in January.

In October, Fairhurst announced she will retire from the high court in January to focus on her health as she fights a third bout of cancer.

Montoya-Lewis, 51, was previously appointed to the superior court by Inslee and ran for re-election unopposed in both 2015 and 2016.

Before her appointment to the superior court, Montoya-Lewis served as the chief judge for the Nooksack and Upper Skagit Indian Tribes in Washington and worked as an associate professor for Western Washington University for more than 12 years. She also previously served with the Lummi Nation Tribal Court, and served as a judge for the Northwest Intertribal Court System.

As superior court judge, she has taught classes on implicit bias throughout the state to judges, court employees and others.

The other members of the court are: Justices Barbara Madsen, Charles Johnson, Susan Owens, Steven Gonzalez, Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Charles Wiggins and Mary Yu.