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Courtesy Indiana Supreme Court
Justice Loretta Rush

Newest judge lends court wise counsel

The Indiana Supreme Court is a better institution today than it was a year ago for one simple reason: Justice Loretta Rush. In her first year on the bench, she’s settled any doubts about the value of a judicial system more representative of the state’s population.

As one legal scholar notes, the former Tippecanoe County jurist has “wowed the legal community and beyond with her thoughtfully crafted and impactful opinions, incisive questions at oral argument and her many speaking engagements and administrative work.”

Joel Schumm, a professor at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law, points to some of those opinions, including one overturning an adoption order granted in favor of the foster parents after a mother successfully appealed termination of parental rights for her twins.

“We understand the trial court’s concern for a speedy, permanent placement for the twins,” Rush wrote in an opinion that also chided the Indiana Department of Child Services for a three-year delay in resolving the mother’s challenge of the adoption. “But a fit parent’s rights are fundamental and constitutionally protected. …(L)etting the adoption stand would be an overreach of State power into family integrity.”

“Justice Rush has demonstrated a knack for writing opinions that lay out a clear roadmap for the lawyers and judges to follow in future cases to avoid the same issues, especially in cases involving the termination of parental rights and juvenile delinquency,” noted Kaarin Leuck, a public defender and juvenile advocate in Wayne County. “(Her opinions) always seem to drive home the point that procedural safeguards are there for a reason and must be followed in order to have a fair and just system.”

Rush’s perspective also informs the important work of the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana. The panel, which she chairs, includes the top administrators of virtually every public agency with responsibility for the state’s children. Its early work is focusing on a long-neglected topic: mental health issues involving children.

“I think sometimes our system can be a bit of a barge. It’s tough to get it to move,” the Supreme Court justice recently told the Indianapolis Business Journal, which named her a 2013 Woman of Influence. “But you can when you have people collectively passionate about issues working on those issues.”

Identifying and prioritizing those issues is as important as addressing them. Rush’s influence already is making a difference in that respect. A General Assembly dominated by men and state agencies disproportionately directed by white males have too often placed economic issues over health, safety and family issues. Some vexing legal cases have arisen as a result.

The new justice’s appointment begins to lend proper balance to an institution that routinely weighs matters shaped by gender differences.

After 13 years without a female on the Supreme Court, all Hoosiers should recognize and appreciate Rush’s impressive contributions.