Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Native American makes history as first Washington Supreme Court justice

native american judge raquel montoya welch washington supreme court jay inslee governor tribe
Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press

Story at a glance

  • Raquel Montoya-Lewis was named a justice to the Washington Supreme Court by Governor Jay Inslee.
  • Ethnically Native American and a former tribal chief judge, she is experienced in tribal affairs.
  • While her heritage is significant, reports state she earned the position on merit as well.

On Thursday, the first Native American judge was appointed to serve on the Washington Supreme Court. This makes her the second Native American judge to serve on a state supreme court in the U.S. 

Raquel Montoya-Lewis, a judge and member of the Pueblo of Isleta and Pueblo of Laguna Tribes from New Mexico, currently sits on the Whatcom County Superior Court. Prior to that, she served as the chief judge for the Nooksack and Upper Skagit Indian Tribes. She was appointed to the Supreme Court by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. 

A press release states that Inslee found Montoya-Lewis’s heritage to be an important factor in her appointment, but said she was ultimately selected because “she is the best person for the job,” further calling her an “exceptional judge.” 

With a law degree from the University of Washington and a masters degree in social work, Montoya-Lewis specializes in legal areas such as tribal membership and rural issues, as well as child welfare, and as a judge, she teaches other judges to recognize implicit biases brought into a given situation. In addition to her career in the legal field, she also served as a professor at Western Washington University as well as an appointee to the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice. 

Adding more than 20 years of experience to the bench, Montoya-Lewis recognizes that Native Americans are “disproportionately represented on every level of the criminal justice system.”

Montoya-Lewis will be joining a diverse set of justices. The current Supreme Court of Washington holds a female majority, with six women and three men currently serving as justices. The current term also includes the first Asian American and LGBTQ justice, as well as a Latino justice. 

In regards to her own ethnicity, Raquel says that while it is a huge component to her identity and a critical aspect of her appointment, “The most important thing is that I not be the last” Native American justice to serve.