By George T. Nicola, GLAPN
Oregon Governor Kate Brown has appointed Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Lynn Nakamoto to the state’s Supreme Court. The appointment fills a vacancy left when Justice Virginia Linder retired before the expiration of her term. Justice Nakamoto’s investiture into her new position took place on January 25. She will run in this year’s election to retain the position.
Justice Nakamoto, who openly identifies as lesbian, was a member of GLAPN’s first group of Queer Heroes NW in 2012. In the early 1990s previous to her judicial career, she and others cofounded an organization called the Asian Pacific Islander Lesbians and Gays (APLG). The organization and community leaders spearheaded a coalition of Asian Pacific American groups to speak out against the 1992 anti-gay Ballot Measure 9. Today APLG still exists as Asian Pacific Islander Pride.
As a private practice attorney in 1991, Ms. Nakamoto was a founding member of the Oregon Minority Lawyers Association. In 1998, she wrote an amicus brief supporting Tanner v. OHSU. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon notes about the consequent victorious ruling “The Oregon Court of Appeals became the first court in the nation to decide that government is constitutionally required to recognize domestic partnerships. . . The Court of Appeals has also made it clear that current Oregon law prohibits any employer–whether public or private–from discriminating in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation.”
In 2001, Ms. Nakamoto was given the prestigious Judge Mercedes Deiz Award, which “recognizes an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to promoting minorities in the legal profession and in the community.” The award is named after the first African-American woman admitted to the Oregon State Bar. Judge Deiz also happened to be one of our earliest straight allies in this state’s judiciary.
In 2004, Ms. Nakamoto was cooperating counsel for the ACLU Foundation of Oregon. She and ACLU’s national office staff attorney Ken Choe were co-counsel in Li and Kennedy v. Oregon, seeking to give Oregon same-gender couples the right to marry. However, the Oregon Supreme Court did not hear the case until after the passage of Measure 36 which made same-gender marriage illegal under the state’s constitution. (A 2014 federal court eventually brought marriage equality to our state.) Later in the decade, Ms. Nakamoto served on the board of Portland’s Q Center.
In 2011, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed Ms. Nakamoto to the Oregon Court of Appeals. She was the first Asian Pacific member of that court. In 2012, she won the statewide election to retain the seat, getting 98% of the popular vote.
Justice Nakamoto is the first Asian Pacific American and the first woman of color to join the Oregon Supreme Court. She is also the only person of color to serve on that court currently.