Leonard’s Courage in Senate Confirmation Helps Elevate Women in Judicial World, But Women Senators Deny Her Chance to Be First Hawaii Women Chief Justice

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BY MARYANN MANCUSO – History was made last week at the Hawaii State Legislature –Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeal Judge Katherine Leonard was the first woman ever nominated as chief of the Hawaii State Supreme Court. But unfortunately, she was denied confirmation by 14 of 25 senators (3 Senators not present).

What could’ve been a remarkable day, turned into a giant step backwards in society’s continued battle for equal rights for women. And there was an ironic twist.


All 8 women senators, including Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (a lawyer), Senate Vice President Donna Mercado Kim, and Senators Suzanne Chun Oakland, Roz Baker, Jill Tokuda, Carol Fukunaga, and Michelle Kidani, all Democrats, all voted against her. This despite strong support for Judge Leonard from the Hawaii Women Lawyers group – a group headed primarily by women Democratic lawyers – and the Hawaii Democratic Party.

There was a debate before the vote, with both sides arguing for and against Leonard. Leonard, who was editor-and-chief of her law review, a partner in a large Hawaii law firm, and an Intermediate Court of Appeals judge for more than 2 years, was deemed by several dozen supporters as “one of the brightest minds in Hawaii.”

The opposition reigned supreme and effectively denied confirmation. But they sent a message that a women’s place is not on the bench of the State Supreme Court as Chief Justice. I believe the majority was wrong.

Judge Leonard was voted down for her so-called lack of leadership and administrative experience. But not once during the confirmation hearings was Judge Leonard found inexperienced or incapable of carrying out her duties in her current role as an Intermediate Court of Appeals judge.

Judge Leonard is an example of what judges should strive to be: Honest, fair, impartial, bright, prolific and someone who follows the law.

She should be commended for her professionalism and ability to stand tall in the face of adversity.

Congratulations to Judge Leonard for leaving an indelible mark on Hawaii history as the first female to be nominated as Hawaii’s Supreme Court Justice. And while not confirmed, she will be remembered for breaking yet another barrier for local professional women.

Maryann Mancuso is a resident of Waikiki. Reach her at mancuso482@gmail.com