In January, Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Isleta and a descendant of the Pueblo of Laguna, will be the only Native American Supreme Court judge in Washington.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee named Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Isleta, to the state Supreme Court on Wednesday. She is the first American Indian justice to be appointed to the state’s highest court, since the court was founded in 1889, and the second American Indian justice in the nation.
As a former Whatcom County Superior Court judge since 2015, Montoya-Lewis taught implicit-bias training to judicial employees — something she says she will continue to do. That may help create a stronger legal foundation with greater awareness and respect for Tribal sovereignty.
“I look forward to serving every citizen of the state of Washington, and in so doing, do justice,” Montoya-Lewis said at a news conference at the Supreme Court.
Montoya-Lewis previously served as chief judge for the Nooksack, Skagit and Lummi Tribes in Washington, and as a judge for the Northwest Intertribal Court System. Montoya-Lewis is a former associate professor for Western Washington University.
“To me, this was like drafting Michael Jordan and then finding out that he’s a great baseball player, too,” Gov. Inslee said.
Montoya-Lewis will be sworn in next month to fulfill the remaining year-long term of Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, who will retire in January to fight cancer.
Elected by her fellow members, Justice Debra Stephens will take the Chief Justice appointment, whereas Montoya-Lewis will be sworn in as justice on the same day.
“It’s a great privilege and responsibility to sit on this bench with these extraordinary justices,” Montoya-Lewis said.
Montoya-Lewis has announced her intent to run when her seat is up for election in 2020.
Minnesota is the other state that counts an American Indian Supreme Court justice. Two American Indian judges sit on the federal bench: Diane Joyce Humetewa in Arizona and Frank Howell Seay in Oklahoma.