Deputy Chief Justice Mary Noble of Lexington has become the first woman to preside over oral arguments in the Kentucky Supreme Court. The issue before the Supreme Court was ineffective assistance of counsel in a criminal case. It's a fairly routine issue of appeal, but the proceedings were unique because, for the first time, a woman was sitting in the chief justice's chair.
Deputy Chief Justice Mary Noble was presiding because Chief Justice John Minton had recused himself. Noble says it's another step forward for women.
"Most women today probably have more freedom to choose than they've ever had," Noble told Kentucky Public Radio. "But we still have very limited opportunity in leadership positions in the government and in business. So, when something like this happens, it's a milestone."
After presiding over the criminal case in the mahogany-paneled courtroom at the State Capitol, Justice Noble was asked why women are just now getting such opportunities.
"Women were so delayed in being admitted into professional schools, that they just didn't get in the pipeline for advancement," said Noble. "That's happened in large numbers and up until this year, and for the past several years, there have been a slight majority of women attending law school."
Justice Noble says she enjoyed the opportunity, which occurred when Chief Justice John Minton recused himself from the case. But Noble says she's not after Minton's job.
"I literally like my chair better!" said Noble. "I think we have a very fine chief justice who's doing a very, very good job. And I'm content to be the deputy chief and get to work on the special projects, like the family court rules, and fill in for him when needed."
Noble and Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson are the only women on the seven-member Supreme Court. The first female to ever serve on the high court was Sarah Combs, in 1993.