First published in the The Oregonian/OregonLive on July 2nd, By Lydia Gerike.
For the first time in history, a woman is leading the Oregon Supreme Court.
Martha L. Walters, 67, was sworn in Monday as chief justice and will preside over the seven-member court for the next six years.
"It's just wonderful to have the support of so many people and the opportunity to serve," Walters said.
After graduating from University of Oregon School of Law in 1977, Walters worked as a lawyer in Eugene and built up a specialty in employment law, according to the Multnomah Bar Association website.
She was part of the legal team that won a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case on behalf of professional golfer Casey Martin, who sued the PGA Tour over its requirement that players must walk during tournament play. The court ruled that Martin, whose circulatory disorder made it difficult for him to walk, was protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and must be allowed to use a golf cart.
Though she has spent years on the bench, Walters said her time as a lawyer has prepared her to make sure the people of Oregon are being properly served by the courts.
"I know ... how important it is to have someone listen to them," Walters said.
She said she plans to use her new role to ensure Oregonians have access to a fair and impartial justice system.
"We are at the forefront of the problems the people in our society face," Walters said.
Walters was elected by her fellow justices to succeed Thomas Balmer, who has served on the court since 2001 and will remain on the bench.
"She's enthusiastic and smart and hardworking, and I think she has a terrific skill set to serve as chief justice," Balmer said.
It is well past time for Oregon to have a female chief justice, Balmer said, noting there were no other women justices when Walters joined the court in 2006. Now there are five.
"She will set a high bar for the next chief justice, whether it's a man or woman, because she will do a great job."
Walters sees her role as chief justice as a chance to help change the norms of gender in government.
The year she graduated law school, Betty Roberts became the first woman appointed to the Oregon Court of Appeals. Roberts went on to become the first woman on the Oregon Supreme Court in 1982.
Walters said she looked up to Roberts and knows she may now become part of the dream of other women who wish to follow in her career path.
"You're just an infinitesimal part of the cosmos, but just being able to be that part is a pretty special thing," Walters said.