Remarks at the memorial service for Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey (April 26, 2021)
In the Jewish tradition, it is said after someone passes, “may her memory be a blessing.” That is an apt description of how Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey served our state in an impactful way and her legacy will continue to be a blessing for all of us. Mary Mullarkey was, in short, Colorado’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Along with her colleague in the AG’s Office, Colorado’s first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Justice Jean Dubofsky, Mary Mullarkey was a true trailblazer and led the way for women to play impactful roles in law and government in Colorado.
It is fitting that Chief Justice Mullarkey herself wrote an article outlining the role of women on the Colorado Supreme Court, noting that (as of 2012) only six had served and, of those, only three had completed their service. Those three remarkable women were Jean Dubofsky, Mary Mullarkey, and Rebecca Kourlis. Jean Dubofsky was appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court in 1979, just before Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court and the same year that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In the 1970s, Mary recalled, Colorado women like Zita Weinshienk, a Denver County Judge, and Pat Schroeder, the Congresswoman from Denver, paved the way for others for rise to positions of leadership.
Chief Justice Mullarkey’s career was one of firsts—the first woman to serve as Colorado Solicitor General, as Counsel to the Colorado Governor, and as Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. And after she succeeded Jean Dubofsky on the Court, she was the only woman on the Court until Becky Kourlis joined her in 1995. She often joked that having four brothers was good preparation for entering the male-dominated legal profession and serving as the only woman on a seven-member court.
As a Justice and later as Chief Justice, Mary Mullarkey was an innovator and a leader. As she reflected on her work, she noted that the women on the Court helped create an atmosphere of “openness to innovation and change,” persuading “the Court to adopt a broad array of policies that have made the state courts more transparent and more effective.” During Chief Justice Mullarkey’s tenure, she worked hard to ensure that our courts would operate professionally, ensuring the fair and efficient resolution of disputes. To take one example of her commitment to public service, she designated her first year as Chief as the “Year of Customer Service,” working to “improve the way everyone working in the Judicial Branch interacted with the public and with each other.” And, of course, Mary Mullarkey also worked tirelessly to bring us a building worthy of supporting our Court of Appeals, Supreme Court, and Department of Law, now standing and known as the Ralph Carr Building. We are all so grateful for her leadership.
The work of bringing more diversity and inclusion in our profession was core to Mary Mullarkey’s legacy. That legacy is connected to Jean Dubofsky, who was her partner at the Attorney General’s Office, and Attorney General J.D. McFarlane, who hired them both. Later, Ken Salazar, who Mary hired as an intern, took that mantle and afforded opportunities to future judges and justices like Christine Arguello, Monica Marquez, Terry Fox, and Anthony Navarro. In their own ways, these judges have also promoted diversity, equity and inclusion – continuing and living out her legacy. Our office also remains committed to that legacy and Maritza Dominguez Braswell now serves as our first ever Deputy Attorney General for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As we remember Chief Justice Mullarkey, we can all be inspired to redouble our efforts and follow her commitment to mentor and advance the careers of underrepresented groups in the legal profession.
Finally, let me end on a personal note. Chief Justice Mullarkey and Tom have always been incredibly kind and supportive of me. I first met the Chief when I recommended students to her, including Mindy Sooter, who worked with her when the Court decided a landmark case, Davidson v. Salazar. That case is part of her legacy, as it determined the independent powers of the Attorney General. In Davidson, the Court ruled that AG Salazar could, where he determined that Colorado law required it, adopt a position opposite his erstwhile client, the Secretary of State, and sue her to invalidate a Colorado law and prevent it from being implemented. In so doing, Chief Justice Mullarkey made clear that the Attorney General, as the “chief legal officer of the state” could bring such an action to represent “the interests of the people [and] promote the public welfare.”
Chief Justice Mullarkey’s scholarly opinion in that case held that a second redistricting effort pushed by the General Assembly after the ordinary process was completed was unconstitutional, thereby preserving the competitive redistricting model adopted in 2002. Although only one of many contributions to Colorado jurisprudence, this decision is one we reflect on regularly at the Attorney General’s Office as we work to carry on the responsibilities of serving the people of Colorado. As we do so, we work hard to meet the level of legal excellence Mary set when she worked in our office. Her memory will truly be a blessing for both those who knew her and those who benefit from her work and legacy.