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Being a gay judge no longer 'a negative,' jurist says

By Bob Egelko

San Francisco Chronicle


Three of the seven openly gay or lesbian justices on the nation's state supreme courts, and the first lesbian jurist on the San Francisco Bay Area's federal bench, got together in San Francisco recently and agreed that being a gay judge isn't much of an issue these days. At least not where they live.

Twenty years ago, when Sabrina McKenna was appointed as a trial court judge in Hawaii, "I was worried about my sexuality being a negative issue," the 55-year-old justice said during a panel sponsored by the Asian American Bar Association.

"I don't think it's a negative anymore," said McKenna, who was appointed to the Hawaii Supreme Court in February 2011. "The powers that be are looking to diversify the bench."

Rives Kistler said "nobody blinked an eye" when he was appointed to Oregon's Court of Appeals in 1999. But there was a short-lived backlash when Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Kistler's former boss as state attorney general, named him to Oregon's Supreme Court in 2003, making him the first openly gay jurist on any state's high court.

Also in 2010, U.S. District Court judges in San Francisco appointed Donna Ryu, a civil rights attorney and University of California at Hastings law professor, as a federal magistrate. No openly gay or lesbian judicial officer had ever served on the court.

California's voters had banned same-sex marriage less than two years earlier, but this was San Francisco, the climate was changing, and Ryu was determined to be as open as possible.

"I wanted people to know that I was lesbian," she said. In the January 2010 news release announcing her appointment, she said, she proposed including her membership on the board of the National Center for Lesbian Rights — only to be told by a clerk that the court's chief judge, Vaughn Walker, was "wondering whether you really want to have that in there."

Ryu agreed to delete the reference, and instead, the release mentioned her female "partner," a local attorney. Nonetheless, it doesn't appear to have generated a single news story.

President Barack Obama has appointed six gays or lesbians to the nation's federal courts. California Gov. Jerry Brown, who in his first term in the 1970s appointed the nation's first openly gay and lesbian judges, named a top legal adviser, James Humes, to a state appeals court in San Francisco last November, making him California's first openly gay appellate justice.

Does it make a difference in judicial decisions?

"That's a dangerous question," Ryu said, recalling the controversy over Supreme Court Justice Sonia Soto­mayor's comments about the possible advantages of having a "wise Latina" on the bench. "I think you bring to it who you are."

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peanutgallery wrote:
Unless, of course, they are adjudicating glt issues, in which case I 'm sure they recuse themselves. Yeah, right! . The world has been turned upside down as being gay is now in vogue
on July 25,2013 | 03:32AM
Mythman wrote:
Thanks to popular kulture - can you imagine going to grad school and your professors are all now tuned in to pop kulture. Why go to college - just go hang out on the street. Imagine a physician or a nuclear physicist becoming influenced more by pop kulture than by the rigors of the profession. Law being an ambiguous endeavor dependent on OPINION was an easy prey for the bloodsuckers trying to make the world over in a version more suited to their own biases and self interests.
on July 25,2013 | 05:31AM
allie wrote:
I disagree. Being gay or lesbian has no impact on the judgment of justices. Only relevant factor is ability and hard work.
on July 25,2013 | 07:54AM
thos wrote:
And we wonder why our power corrupted judicial system has embraced the politically correct and abandoned the search for Truth and Justice. And the source of this evil judicial tyranny? The 1803 Marbury v Madison when CJSCOTUS Marshall claimed for the Court a power never envisioned for it by the founders: the power to declare the work product of the other two co equal branches "unconstitutional". From this Pandora's Box all manner of evil has flown out to curse America, not the least of which is the political circus atmosphere that now always attends EVERY federal judicial nominee...and the increasing tendency of unelected black robed tyrants to exercise unchecked power over what SHOULD be the sovereign citizens of this country. Example: just look at how often the court appoints what THEY call a MASTER to deal with this or that problem. If the Court is MASTER, guess who the slaves are.
on July 25,2013 | 07:14AM
Kuihao wrote:
Wow, so Marbury v. Madison is where the Nation went off the rails? Incredible. Maybe we should hang John Marshall in effigy. But seriously, kudos to Justice McKenna for being an excellent jurist who happens to be lesbian! We need more judges of her caliber, whether they be gay or straight.
on July 25,2013 | 07:38AM
Mythman wrote:
right - the point being the original US is gone forever, long live the Lesbians and Gays etc etc etc etc too bad they couldn't co exist with the original nation. Why is that?
on July 25,2013 | 09:06AM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Do you mean the original US where we had slavery and only white men who owned property could? That one?
on July 25,2013 | 05:25PM
allie wrote:
silly uninformed comment.
on July 25,2013 | 12:40PM
konag43 wrote:
disgusting. this is why the gays are taking over. they are putting immoral people in high places.
on July 25,2013 | 02:29PM
W15 wrote:
And the judgmental people are wreaking havoc posting on Star-Advertiser online stories. God, save us from your followers! ;)
on July 25,2013 | 05:41PM
AndrewWalden wrote:
Does it make a difference in judicial decisions? "That's a dangerous question," Ryu said,.... "I think you bring to it who you are."
on July 28,2013 | 06:32PM
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