INDIANAPOLIS — For the second time in less than a year, Gov. Mitch Daniels may have the chance to consider appointing a woman to the state’s all-male top court.
But to do so, the three women still in the running for the seat must get through another round of interviews with a judicial nominating committee charged with vetting candidates for the Indiana Supreme Court.
On Thursday, the seven-member commission begins its second round of interviews with the seven semi-finalists selected from a field of 15 people who applied to fill the seat, which is being vacated in March by retiring Chief Justice Randall Shepard.
Gender isn’t on the list of criteria that state statute requires the nominating commission to consider when assessing those candidates. But it may still be factor: Of the 106 justices who’ve sat on the Indiana Supreme Court, only one has been a woman.
“There’s some catching up to do,” said Joel Schumm, a longtime court observer and a professor at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.
How much pressure either the commission or the governor feels to “catch up” remains to be seen. The commission must pick three names to send to the governor, who filled the last court opening with a man: former Boone County judge Steven David, who was appointed in October from a field of three that included one woman.
At the time, Daniels said gender could be used as a “tie breaker” if two judicial candidates were equal.
Brian Howey, a political analyst and publisher of Howey Politics Indiana, said he doubts Daniels will see things differently this time. “I don’t think he feels a need to make a decision based on gender,” Howey said.
Schumm, who sat through the first round of applicant interviews in what’s becoming an increasingly public vetting process, said the seven candidates on the semifinalist list have impressive legal credentials. “It’s quite possible the three names could all be men,” Schumm said.
Shepard chairs the commission that will pick the person to fill his seat. He’s said in the past that women, including some of his own family members, have pushed him to help change the gender makeup of the court. But he’s also said the commission’s first duty is to identify the most highly qualified candidates for the job.
So far, that’s meant selecting seven candidates with a range of legal experiences, most of it Indianapolis-centric. They include two Marion County Superior Court judges, Robert Altice Jr. and Robyn Moberly; Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Cale Bradford, who is a former federal prosecutor; Indianapolis attorney Mark Massa and Columbus attorney Steven Schultz, both of whom are former legal counsels to Daniels; Indianapolis attorney Jane Seigel, who runs the Indiana Judicial Center; and Floyd Superior Court Judge Maria Granger of New Albany, who, at 42, is the youngest of the finalists.
If Seigel, Moberly or Granger would be appointed to the top court, it would be historic — the state’s second female justice. The first was Myra Selby, who served less than five years before stepping down from the court 11 years ago.
All of the candidates have already gone through one round of interviews that were open to the media and the general public. The second round of interviews with commission members, scheduled to start Thursday, are also open. The commission has until March 4 to pick three names to send to the governor, who then has 60 days to make his selection.