Loretta Rush, a longtime juvenile court judge who joined the Indiana Supreme Court in 2012, was unanimously chosen as the state's first female chief justice Wednesday, setting the stage for what could be a long run at the court's helm.
The seven-member Judicial Nominating Commission chose Rush to succeed Justice Brent Dickson as the high court's leader. Dickson announced in June that he would step down as chief justice but remain an associate justice.
Dickson succeeded Randall Shepard as chief justice in 2012. He faces mandatory retirement when he turns 75 in 2016.
Gov. Mike Pence praised Rush's appointment in a statement late Wednesday afternoon, noting that the nominating commission "has made history and ensured that Indiana's Supreme Court will continue to have outstanding leadership in the years ahead."
Indiana justices are appointed to five-year terms before facing a retention vote.
Rush's appointment also drew praise from legal experts, who noted that though she is the court's newest member, she has proven herself by writing opinions in a series of contentious cases. Those include one involving the free speech rights of an Indiana blogger and another involving an Evansville smoking ban.
"She written unanimous opinions for the court in some of the most important and complicated cases," said Joel Schumm, a professor at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law and an expert on Indiana's courts.
Rush, 56, thanked the panel for its support and said she was ready to work closely with the other four justices.
"I think we work well together, the five of us," she said. "We work on tough cases, there is a lot of administrative work we all have done. So I appreciate the vote of confidence."
During public interviews before her selection, Rush fielded questions about her judicial philosophy, her view of the role of chief justice and how she would balance her home life and the responsibilities of the job.
She likened her philosophy to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, because of his narrow reading of the Constitution and the founders' intentions, and said a chief justice must be a role model and build consensus.
After Rush talked about letting her 12-year-old son throw out the first pitch at a recent Gary Railcats game, commission member John Ulmer asked how she would juggle her work and home lives. Rush said it's important to be a good time manager and noted that she has adult children and is experienced at multitasking.
Ulmer said he didn't plan to ask Rush about work-family balance until Rush mentioned her son. That had him thinking about how his family coped when he was a state lawmaker, he said.
"My wife had to raise our children while I worked all day and night, sometimes five nights a week, and I saw how it affected my children," Ulmer said.
Ulmer said he did not ask the three male candidates that question because he knew they didn't have young children.
Rush worked in private practice in Lafayette before serving 14 years on the Tippecanoe Superior Court. She was appointed the state's 108th Supreme Court justice by former Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2012. She is the first woman to serve on the state Supreme Court since Myra Selby stepped down in 1999 after five years on the bench.
In Tippecanoe County, Rush led a push for better and more uniform protections for Indiana's abused and neglected children. She helped create the county's Court Appointed Special Advocate program, implemented a juvenile drug treatment court and initiated a 24-hour assessment center for youth.
As a Supreme Court Justice, Rush leads the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana and the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity. She also serves on several panels focused on juvenile justice.
Rush was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and moved to Indiana in 1976. After graduating from Purdue University in 1980, she washed dishes and did other jobs to work her way through the Indiana University School of Law.
In November 1998, before her first term as a Tippecanoe County judge began, a former juvenile client kicked in the front door of Rush's home and tried to kill her husband. Rush hid their children and tried to get help, but she and her husband both were injured and she later had to have surgery. The attacker was convicted of attempted murder and burglary.