Posted: June 11, 2015
THE MORE THE JUDGES CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME
By Celia Cohen
It is not true the leading members of the Delaware judiciary have taken to pasting those "Hello My Name Is" stickers on their robes, so they can tell who everyone is.
Beyond bowling pins, there is not much that has been upended more than the highest reaches of the state court system during Jack Markell's tenure as the Democratic governor since 2009.
Despite so much change, there is one sticking point.
The upper ranks -- namely, the Supreme Court, the Court of Chancery and the presiding judges of the six state courts -- are still almost exclusively the province of white men.
On the Supreme Court, four out of five seats have turned over, all but the one held by Randy Holland, but even so, the court has had only one woman sitting as a justice except for the briefest of overlaps.
This is because the day Karen Valihura was appointed was the day Carolyn Berger resigned in a show of displeasure from being passed over earlier for chief justice.
As for Holland, he has been there so long he has set records.
He is the longest serving justice ever, after started out as the youngest justice ever when he went on the court at 39 years old in 1986. That was so far back Ronald Reagan was president, and 140 characters were what people read about in a Russian novel, not what their limit on Twitter is.
On the Court of Chancery, three out of five members are new. Before they came on, five out of five were white men. Now five out of five are still white men.
As for the six presiding judges, it is more of the same.
Markell named four of the six as of Wednesday, when the state Senate confirmed Mike Newell as the chief judge of the Family Court. (The governor has also reappointed Alan Davis as the chief magistrate.)
Only Alex Smalls, in the middle of a 12-year term as the chief judge of the Court of Common Pleas, spans Markell's governorship.
Among the presiding judges, there were five men, four of them white, and one woman when Markell began, and there is an identical ratio now.
In came Jan Jurden as the president judge of the Superior Court, but out went Chandlee Johnson Kuhn as the chief judge of the Family Court.
Nor should it be overlooked that Markell actually had two turns at naming a chancellor for the Court of Chancery, because he not only appointed Leo Strine Jr. but also his replacement when Strine was elevated to chief justice.
The governor's office would prefer a wider perspective on his judicial nominations.
A count provided by Andy Lippstone, the governor's chief counsel, shows close to half of the new appointments to all the courts -- 15 out of 34 -- going to women, among them the high-profile nominations of Valihura as a justice and Jurden as president judge.
"Is this progress?" Lippstone said. "Yes."
Markell still has a chance to do more to diversify the judicial heights. He has another year and a half before time runs out on his two-term limit, and there is widespread speculation that a vice chancellor or two could retire before then.
"The merry-go-round is expected to continue," Lippstone said.
As of now, though, it still looks lonely at the top for women. The corporate world has its glass ceilings. The Delaware courts have their unreachable-star chambers.