When current Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven González began his court appointment in January 2012, he made history as the fourth Jewish judge on the court and the second person of color to serve on it.
But now, as he canvasses the state talking to voters and campaigning to win a second term, the former assistant United States attorney in the Western District of Washington and 10-year King County Superior Court judge is finding that the battle is an uphill one, mainly because many counties throughout the state are not publishing a voter’s pamphlet for the August 7 primary this year, a fact that González believes leaves him at a serious disadvantage.
Without any biographical information in voters’ hands or printed on the ballot, and no mention of González’s incumbency, his challenger, King County Superior Court arbitrator Bruce Danielson from Kitsap County, will appear first on the ballot. According to state law, whichever candidate in a two-person high court race gets the majority vote in the primary runs unopposed in the general election.
It’s a situation that makes González uncomfortable.
“If you put my qualifications side by side with my opponent’s, I win on every single measure that’s traditionally used for judges, but nobody knows either of us,” González told JTNews.
González is counting on his widespread bipartisan support and his commitment to gender and ethnic diversity to distinguish him from his rival.
“It’s not what qualifies me to be on the Supreme Court,” said González, reflecting on his seven months on the job, “but when I look in my own heart, it is often what motivates me to work so hard to stay there. I love the work on the Supreme Court.”
The son of a Mexican father and a Jewish mother, González is one of two Supreme Court judges appointed by outgoing Gov. Christine Gregoire. He completed the term of former Justice Gerry Alexander, who faced mandatory retirement after turning 75.
The well-regarded and highly awarded jurist described his own background growing up in a multi-cultural and multi-religion family as having “a menorah on the mantle and a Christmas tree to the side” during the winter holidays. His mother, said the justice, “schooled” him in the Jewish values of social and political justice, while his Catholic grandmother made sure he was baptized, even if she had to perform it herself in the family bathtub — which she did.
“My mother had one grandparent who was Yankee, and three who are Jewish — Lithuanian, Latvian, and Russian — who came through Ellis Island to the U.S.,” González said. “My mom grew up in New Hampshire and was fairly active in politics, social movements, and union work.”
Today, González is married with two sons and lives in Seattle, where his wife works as the assistant dean at the University of Washington School of Law.
“I never clicked with the Catholic faith,” González added. “I’ve always identified with the Jewish faith, but more culturally than in practice.”
Throughout his career, González has mentored students in law schools, high schools, and in many other programs in the community. It’s his way of being a role model for those who will come up after him.
“When I go out and speak at schools, the kids of color, I think they begin to imagine the possibility of themselves on the court,” said González. “I think it’s critical for girls to see women in positions of power. But perhaps more importantly than that, it’s important for boys and men to see women in positions of power. It’s also important that the mainstream person, the non-minority person sees people of color in positions of power.”
González was a Western District of Washington Hate Crimes Prosecution Coordinator, a prosecutor of domestic violence cases for the City of Seattle, is a founding member of the Initiative for Diversity, was the executive committee member and chair of the Washington State Access to Justice board, and is a co-founder and was co-chair of the Race and the Criminal Justice System Task Force.
He has been rated “exceptionally well qualified” by the King County Bar Association, the Tacoma/Pierce County Bar Association, Pierce County Minority Bar Association, the Cardozo Law Society of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington, the Joint Asian Judicial Evaluation Committee, the Loren Miller Bar Association, and Q-Law: The GLBT Bar Association of Washington, according to the nonpartisan website www.votingforjudges.org.
“The idea that the judicial branch should be nonpartisan is something I’ve been able to embody,” said González.