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Justice Loretta Rush posed along with other members of the Indiana Supreme Court shortly after she joined the court in 2012.

Court's new leader

Chief justice brings expertise in children's cases

“Chief Justice Loretta Rush” has a nice ring to it. More important, the Indiana's highest court now has a nice contrast to the all-male institution it represented for 13 years. Its new leadership presents a more progressive, inclusive face for the state.

Rush, a former Tippecanoe County juvenile court judge, becomes the 20th female chief justice of a state supreme court. She was selected to succeed Chief Justice Brent Dickson after less than two years on the court – the first female justice since Myra Selby stepped down in 1999.

For those who believe gender or race is immaterial in the court's makeup, consider that Rush's area of expertise is cases involving children – certainly not the exclusive territory of female jurists, but an important part of the law in which the previous court did not have an experienced judge. Rush shows a heart and passion for the difficult work.

“I thought that (children) were the least represented, or had the least rights that were set forth in court,” she told the Purdue Exponent earlier this year. “So I saw the need. The need is just so pressing, and it's just as pressing now as it was when I started working with children in the legal system 25 years ago.”

The judge once had a collection of photos of children involved in her cases covering the bench in her Lafayette courtroom. When it outgrew the surface, she transferred them to a large canvas on display in her office as reminder of the “importance of the law in protecting children in the system.”

In addition to her duties on the Supreme Court, Rush has served as chair of the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana, a panel created after James Payne's troubled tenure as first director of the Department of Child Services. The commission includes the top administrators of the public agencies with oversight of the state's children.

The commission's work, at Rush's direction, is one step in correcting the disproportionate attention that economic considerations have commanded at the state level – at the expense of health, safety, education and family issues.

In her work for the Supreme Court, Rush's perspective enhances opinions that an all-male court could not produce for the very fact that it lacked a female perspective. Justice might be blind, but gender biases inevitably shape views in many cases. At the end of her first year on the court, one legal scholar remarked that the new justice had “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.”

Rush's unanimous selection as chief justice should remind Hoosiers that, given the opportunity, women and minorities often prove to be the best suited for a job.