Posted: Dec. 1, 2015
By Celia Cohen
Nobody even noticed when all three branches of Delaware's government made history.
Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, appointed Natalie Haskins to a Family Court judgeship. The state Senate confirmed her. With that, the state judiciary had its first court with more women sitting as judges than men.
It turns out there is not just the fog of war. There is also the fog of history.
The moment came on an otherwise dreary Monday afternoon in Dover, where the state Senate met in special session to consider nominations that could not wait until the General Assembly convenes as usual in January for the last six months of the 2014-2016 term.
The political gods took note of the occasion to make it unforgettable, as they will in their own mysterious ways. As it happened, the state senators had to meet on the other side of Legislative Hall in the state House of Representatives because construction work, previously scheduled, shut down their own chamber.
It was there that the hinge of history rotated unassumingly on Haskins -- a homegrown Delawarean working as an assistant public defender, who is an African-American woman and went to Newark High School and the University of Delaware before law school at American University -- as the 17-judge Family Court bench flipped to nine women and eight men.
Not even the governor and his staff realized what had happened. After it was pointed out to them Tuesday and the numbers were checked and double-checked and confirmed, the office released a statement that did not exactly signal the moment. An announcement on how many potholes it had filled would have had about as much life to it:
"Governor Markell remains committed to a judiciary that accurately reflects Delaware and the constituents who appear before its courts. Having a diverse judiciary has been a high priority for the governor, and he has been fortunate to have been able to make so many appointments and interview so many highly qualified applicants during his time in office."
Never mind. Markell has turned out to be the governor in the right place at the right time to reconfigure the judiciary, and he has done it, one appointment at a time.
By the time Markell reaches his two-term limit in January 2017, he will have appointed or reappointed 80 percent of the 58-member judiciary, including the appointments of the ranking judges of the three major courts, namely, Leo Strine Jr. as chief justice on the Supreme Court, Andy Bouchard as chancellor on the Court of Chancery and Jan Jurden as president judge on the Superior Court.
Change comes slowly with judicial terms lasting 12 years, timed staggeringly from the day of oath-taking, but Markell has made the court system less male and less white than it has ever been, even if it still remains top heavy with white men.
As of now, the judiciary has 37 men and 19 women, with 46 of them white and 10 of them minority, along with two replacements pending because of the retirements of John Noble from Chancery and Fred Silverman from Superior Court.
Whatever Markell has done, it is a legacy that will last long after he leaves office, beyond the next governor into the following governor.
One thing that Markell -- or any governor -- cannot touch is the political balance of the judiciary. Delaware is the only state where there is a constitutional requirement for the courts to be split as evenly as they can between Democrats and Republicans.
So they are.
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Here are the courts as they now stand, according to research provided by Lydia Prigg, the governor's director of boards & commissions.