Growing up in Chicago’s Southside to immigrant parents, Justice Mary Yu could have never imagined her future would entail serving on the Washington State Supreme Court.
“Some kids might dream about it all their lives, but given how I grew up and where I grew up, that just wasn’t really within my vision,” said Justice Yu. “My parents were very simple, in terms of our life. They knew that education was important, but they never dreamed that their kids would go to college.”
Justice Yu has excelled far beyond her childhood dreams, with a passion for advancing justice carrying her throughout a long and successful career in law. Justice Yu began her tenure in the Pacific Northwest as deputy chief of staff to King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng in 1999. A year later, then Governor Gary Locke appointed Justice Yu as a judge of the King County Superior Court. After 14 years of presiding over various civil, juvenile, and criminal cases, Justice Yu was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2014 by Governor Jay Inslee.
Her appointment signaled a watershed moment as the first Latina, Asian, and LGBTQ-identified justice took her place on the court. She was then elected by the public in 2014, again in 2016, and remains just as strong of an advocate for justice as ever.
“For me, the justice system is an avenue that ensures everyone has the opportunity to be heard – no matter how small or how large the issue is. Our system guarantees everyone due process, equal protection, and the right to be heard,” said Justice Yu. “So when I look at what system or institution in our society has the best opportunity to ensure justice for all, it’s the court system. It’s the only place that can treat individuals as individuals and (can) secure rights which belong to each one of us.”
When she’s not hearing cases, Justice Yu serves as a co-chair on the Supreme Court’s Minority and Justice Commission, is the chair of the Board for Judicial Administration’s Public Trust and Confidence Committee, and also teaches at Seattle University School of Law.
However, one of Justice Yu’s most well-known roles has been as the officiant of one of the first same-sex marriages in Washington after the passage of Referendum 74 in 2012.
“Presiding over the first same-sex marriage was probably one of the most magical moments in my whole career,” said Justice Yu. “It’s sort of a double-edged sword, because I’m not persuaded that civil rights ought to be put up for a vote. But the fact is, the people of Washington decided to recognize that we did have the right to marry the person that we loved. My staff came to me and said, ‘Look judge, this is the day that the law is effective and why should people have to wait one more minute? Let’s do the first marriage at midnight, and then we’ll finish at 12:01?’ The more that we thought about it, the more we thought, ‘Let’s just keep going. Let’s just do it at 12:00 and just keep going until the next morning,’ which is what we did. It was extraordinary to witness people coming together and finally be able to profess their love for one another, and to have the state recognize it.”
While marriage equality is now law across the United States, Justice Yu encourages all Washington state residents to remain aware of potential threats to civil rights.
“I think that no matter what, we need to be vigilant,” said Justice Yu. “I think we’ve got to pay attention, especially in the areas of housing and healthcare. I worry very much that there’s still a license to discriminate against members of our community. So I would say that people need to be engaged in a civic manner, politically, and (also) to be visible at every point. I know that visibility sometimes invites bullying, and yet at the same time, what I would like everybody to do is to make sure that we’re visible and that people know that we’re present, we care, and this matters.”
Join us tonight as we give special recognition for Justice Yu’s commitment to justice and equality during Justice For All: 38th Annual Business & Humanitarian Awards Dinner at the Seattle Waterfront Marriott: http://bit.ly/2Rzxo3i