Justice Virginia Linder

Oregon Supreme Court

Virginia Linder's mother has been proud of her for a very long time. That pride grew exponentially during President Obama's search for a new US Supreme Court judge. In May, 2009, the American Broadcasting Corporation published at abcgo.com a story about our president's consideration of candidates for the vacancy on the US Supreme Court. In the article, ABC seemed to suggest that the president was considering on his short list two high profile gay women - one of them Oregon Supreme Court Justice Virginia Linder. Gini, as most of us know her, spent some time on the phone with her mom explaining that she was not on "the list" and that the article really did not say she was. Gini was ready with a response to anyone else who might call to congratulate her. She would explain it was an honor even to be mistaken for someone on the short list. No one called, but her mother was thrilled.

Gini has had a remarkable legal career even if she was not on "the list." Born in Colorado, she graduated from Southern Oregon, worked for two years back east and then attended Willamette Law School starting in 1977. In her second and third years at the law school, she walked across the street and became one of the most in-demand law clerks for the Oregon Attorney General's Office. We all wanted to have her work on our files as, even then, she demonstrated clear, reasonable, impressive thinking. She was also a great workout partner, who pushed me as hard as she pushed herself to experience a really great work out.

After graduating in 1980 from law school, she joined the appellate division and in four short years, stepped into the role of assistant solicitor general. By age 33, she was appointed by Attorney General Frohmayer to be solicitor general. Her history of exceptional legal work and her personal integrity served the state of Oregon well as she held that position longer than any other person in Oregon's history. Over 11 years later, she accepted an appointment to the Oregon Court Appeals by Governor John Kitzhaber in 1997, and she was re-elected both in 1998 and 2004.

In 2006, Justice Wallace Carson announced he intended to step down from the Oregon Supreme Court. With the full support of both her life partner and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, she became the first woman in the history of the State of Oregon to be elected to the Oregon Supreme Court, on which she has served since 2007. She is also the first openly lesbian judge to serve on a state supreme court anywhere in the US.

Gini believes that the position of judge at any level brings a large responsibility to the people of Oregon requiring doing more than just the daily judicial functions. For 10 years, she taught appellate advocacy at Willamette, because she thinks it is valuable to have judges and practicing lawyers in the law schools, and because she loves teaching. She has been involved in the ABA committees, including the Appellate Judges Conference. She currently participates on the bar's Leadership College Advisory Board; is chair of the annual state judicial conference every fall; serves on the executive committee of the local Inns of Court; and participates in other activities including serving as a member of the Professional Commission, a joint bench and bar commission. For the third time, she works as an editor for the bar's Appellate Practice CLE volume.

Since winning the election and coming on to the supreme court, she has given the commencement speech at Southern Oregon University and at Willamette Law School. She claims she is not histrionic by nature and finds writing a speech that she thinks is worth giving can be as consuming as writing a challenging opinion. Talking to members of the audiences, she is doing a fine job as the speaker.

She reminds us that no one becomes perfect, but we can see some become great.

Originally authored by Peggy Foraker and printed in the February 2010 Multnomah Lawyer
Edited for website publication in April, 2010