Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Oregon Supreme Court Elects First-Ever Female Chief Justice

M.O. Stevens

On Oregon’s highest court, women justices outnumber men, five to two. But never in its history has the court had a woman serve as chief justice.

Until now.

In a unanimous vote announced Monday, the court's seven justices have elected longtime Justice Martha Lee Walters to take the reins.

Walters, 67, has been on the Supreme Court since 2006. Before that, she was a lead attorney in one of Oregon’s first all-women law firms, based in Eugene.

As chief, Walters will preside over hearings, hand out opinion-writing assignments, and oversee administration of the state's Judicial Department. She'll take over for current Chief Justice Thomas Balmer on July 1. The term lasts six years.

In a statement, Walters praised her predecessor as "an innovative leader and tireless advocate for Oregon's courts."

Balmer, meanwhile, praised Walters' election.

"She will continue to face challenges keeping Oregon’s courts open and accessible to all Oregonians, especially to children, families, and people needing the protection of the courts," he said.

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.