In Which We Wonder If 14 Hawaii Senators Are Really Raving Sexists…
The strange saga of Judge Katherine Leonard came to a close last week, as the state Senate rejected Gov. Lingle’s Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee. The vote came after the Hawaii State Bar Association’s board of directors deemed Leonard “unqualified,” an assessment Lingle blasted as “outrageous.” The fact that Leonard would have been Hawaii’s first female Chief Justice only fanned the flames, and the whole thing quickly devolved into another “Lingle versus the legislature” pissing contest.
“The 14 senators who voted down Judge Leonard’s confirmation represent the height of hypocrisy, given that earlier this year they all voted for a resolution calling on me to appoint more women to the bench,” Lingle sniffed. She was referring to SR26, which “urges the Governor to use and consider gender equality when appointing judges.” Republican Sen. Fred Hemmings, who voted to approve Leonard, also referenced SR26, reportedly telling his female colleagues who voted for the resolution, “You have a chance today to achieve your goals.” (Speaking of hypocrisy, Hemmings voted against SR26.)
Lost amid the squabbling and veiled accusations of sexism was any cogent analysis of Leonard’s qualifications and judicial style. Did all 14 of the Senators who voted against her really do so because of a gender bias and/or a vendetta against Lingle? Let’s turn to Maui’s own Sen. Roz Baker, who spoke on the Senate floor before the Leonard vote. Here are her remarks in their entirety, sent over by her office upon request. I excerpted them in this week’s Coconut Wireless column, but I think the full version tells the story even better:
“Madam President, it is with regret and sadness that I find I must rise in opposition to Governor’s Message #4, the nomination of Katherine Leonard as Chief Justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.
At first I was thrilled that a woman was being nominated for the position of Chief Justice. I have stood in our chambers on several occasions to ask for more qualified women to be elevated to positions of importance in state government and in our judiciary. I hoped we had found such an individual in Kate Leonard.
By all accounts she has been an able jurist during her short tenure on the Intermediate Court of Appeals. She is deemed very bright, writes well and is considered a very capable legal analyst. But the duties and responsibilities of the Chief Justice require more than just having a good legal mind. It requires the ability to manage and effectively administer the third branch of government as well as to lead and inspire the judges and the almost 2000 employees that comprise the judiciary’s important human resources. A review of the research by LRB regarding the many powers and responsibilities that reside with the Chief Justice was most instructive. I ask that their memo requested by Sen. Ihara and shared with all Senators be included in the record following my remarks.
The Chief Justice is far more than just the top judge of the Supreme Court. In fact according to the office of the chief justice, the administrative/management duties and decision-making responsibilities comprise well over sixty percent of the Chief Justice’s time. The leadership and executive management functions for the Judiciary cannot be delegated to the Administrative Director of the Courts. The person who sets the tone, advocates, inspires trust and confidence in a fair, user friendly, accessible judicial system is the Chief Justice. That cannot be delegated away.
I view this confirmation as one of if not the most important ones to come before the Senate. The decision we make will have lasting impact on our community and the administration of justice in Hawaii, far into the future. There is no second bite at this apple. A situation I believe we should change next year.
Colleagues, I believe the Judiciary is at a cross roads. It needs an insightful, well-rounded, capable and proven leader. I know this is not an easy vote. However, after weighing the testimony from the hearing, speaking with others who called my office, came by or communicated with identification by e-mailed and more importantly after spending time reviewing Judge Leonard’s CV, work experiences and after having an in-depth discussion with her, I have concluded that she is indeed a fine ICA judge and we were correct to confirm her to that position. However, for the position of Chief Justice, she does not, at this time, have the requisite skills, experiences, abilities, and knowledge of the admin side of the equation to lead the Judiciary at this critical juncture. I cannot just trust that she will grow into this position; I cannot just trust that she’ll become a good leader and an effective administrator.
Therefore, I will cast a no vote on this nominee for this position. Mahalo.”