When Gov. Evan Bayh appointed Myra Selby to the Indiana Supreme Court in 1995, it appeared the state stepped ahead in its judicial history. The appointment of both the first woman and first black member signaled acceptance of the need for the court to resemble the state itself – rich in diversity and life experience.
It has been a long time in coming, Selby said at the time, praising the fact that the Supreme Court was moving in the direction of representing what our community looks like.
Gov. Frank OBannon appointed the courts second black associate justice, Robert D. Rucker, when Selby stepped down in 1999 to return to private practice.
But Gov. Mitch Daniels appointment last week of Mark Massa as newest member of the states highest court is a reminder that the case for inclusiveness hasnt been won. In two appointments, Daniels has chosen white males over eminently qualified women who would have brought perspective and life experience to the court that the governors appointees cant offer.
As Hoosiers prepare to elect a new governor, its clear that candidates vying for the office need to be on record in their views regarding the appointment of women and minority members to positions of influence in the administration.
The last seven years have seen disappointing erosion in the diversity of top state policymakers. With the exception of the Department of Labor, Commission for Higher Education and Civil Rights Commission, the top administrators in state government are almost exclusively white and male. They might be excellent administrators, but their overrepresentation in a state where slightly more than half the residents are female and almost 20 percent are black or Hispanic casts Indiana as backward and resistant to change.
The Indiana State Department of Health, Department of Workforce Development, Department of Transportation, Department of Child Services, Family and Social Services Administration and most other state agencies are headed by white men.
Indiana remains one of only three states without a female on its highest court; the others are Idaho and Iowa. For Daniels to refer to the Indiana panel as Americas best Supreme Court is to suggest that a court without female representation is better than the courts of the 47 states benefiting from a womans perspective. Such a claim defies reason, given that the courts routinely weigh decisions shaped by gender differences – in employment, domestic violence, family law and more.
Massas appointment hasnt escaped charges of cronyism. Massa was Daniels chief counsel from 2006 to 2010 and most recently served as executive director of the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. While his qualifications might be strong, so were those of Jane Seigel, executive director of the Indiana Judicial Center.
Daniels said gender would have been a tiebreaker in his decision if the finalists had displayed the same merit, experience, principles and temperament, but it cannot trump those other criteria, in my opinion. We simply have to seek out the very, very, very best person available, and Im convinced I have.
Indiana voters must ask the candidates seeking to replace Daniels whether they agree that including broader representation – not just on the Supreme Court, but throughout the highest level of the state administration – doesnt deserve equal standing with merit, experience, principles and temperament.