Idaho ranks nearly last in the nation when it comes to the percentage of women judges on the state’s courts.
But nearly last is a slight improvement: In 2012, Idaho had the lowest percentage in the nation at just 12 percent.
The Idaho Press reports that applications are now being taken for an opening on the Idaho Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Joel Horton. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter says he’d never make his choice for Horton’s replacement solely on the basis of gender.
“I look for the person I think is going to do the best job,” he said. However, Otter added that it would “delight” him if, once all factors were weighed, “the best candidate was a woman.”
“I would absolutely delight in that,” Otter said. “But I want the best jurist.”
The National Association of Women Judges tracks the number of judges by gender for each state. For 2016, the most recent ranking available, Idaho ranked next-to-last for women judges at 17 percent. Arkansas came in last at 15 percent.
Otter has appointed four women as district judges and two to the Court of Appeals since 2012. He’s never appointed a woman to the Idaho Supreme Court, however, though he has appointed four Supreme Court justices.
Just three women have ever served on the Idaho Supreme Court: Former Justices Cathy Silak and Linda Copple Trout and current Justice Robyn Brody, who was elected rather than appointed. Brody took office on Jan. 5, 2017.
“Stick your hat in the ring — don’t be afraid,” Brody advised Idaho’s female lawyers.
Brody said she agrees with Otter that the primary consideration must be which candidate is the best for the job.
There are also fewer female attorneys than judges statewide, and women make up just 28 percent of the members of the Idaho State Bar. University of Idaho College of Law associate dean Jeffrey Dodge says the school’s student body is about 43 percent female.
The incoming first-year class this fall is about 48 percent female, he said, though “it’s a challenge for us in terms of trying to reach gender parity in our student body.”
Idaho’s second-highest court, the Idaho Court of Appeals, has two women judges: Molly Huskey and Jessica Lorello, both appointed by Otter, Huskey in 2015, and Lorello in 2017. The four-member Court of Appeals, like Idaho’s population as a whole, is split 50-50 between men and women; the U.S. Census estimated the percentage of women among Idaho’s population in 2017 at 49.9 percent.
The national comparisons on female state judges don’t include magistrate judges, who are appointed by a commission and hear misdemeanor, small-claims, juvenile and family-court cases. Of Idaho’s 92 magistrates, 23 percent are women.