In 1995, Michigan native Myra Selby made history when she was chosen to be Indiana’s first female supreme court justice by then-Governor Evan Bayh. But when Selby stepped down in 1999 to practice law for Ice Miller, the Hoosier Supreme Court was left without a female presence on the bench.
Fast forward to 2012, and this reality seems ready to change. Justice Frank Sullivan, a 19-year court veteran, announced in April that he would relinquish his seat in order to pursue a career in teaching law at Indiana University. According to court-watcher Michael W. Hoskins,
“[Sullivan’s retirement] continues a period of change for the Indiana Supreme Court and gives Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels a rare chance to make three appointments to the state’s highest court – a majority that could impact how cases are decided. That hasn’t happened since Democrat Evan Bayh made four appointments in the mid-1990s, including Sullivan.”
The retirement, aside from its political implications, also gives Daniels the opportunity to become the first conservative governor to appoint a woman to the bench. In fact, of the 22 applicants for the seat, 16 are women – 7 are sitting justices and 9 are attorneys. While Indiana has historically shied away from choosing female justices, the fact that more than 70% of the candidates for the vacant seat are women is a sure sign Daniels will be under pressure to choose one for the seat.
Seeing as 50% of Indiana’s population has only had one justice on the court throughout all of the state’s 194-year history, Hoosiers have probably been missing out on some excellent talent and perspective. The number of qualified women (no special consideration!) applying for Justice Sullivan’s seat could be the first step in expanding female representation on the court.
But before that can happen, a judicial nominating commission will have to narrow down the Governor’s choices from 22 names to 3.
That process is still a long way from over.