The four candidates vying for the Idaho Supreme Court each gave credible interviews and impressed the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board with their potential to fill the seat occupied by Justice Jim Jones, who retires in January.
Though Rupert attorney Robyn Brody and Idaho Sen. Curt McKenzie, who has a Boise law practice, are on a path that could well end with a judgeship someday, the other two candidates are much more seasoned and ready to do the job on the Supreme Court immediately.
Sergio Gutierrez, an Idaho Court of Appeals judge since 2002, served on the bench in District Court prior to that. He has one of the most compelling life stories of any candidate in any Idaho race this year. After surviving a rough-and-tumble upbringing on the crime-riddled streets of Stockton, Calif., and earning his GED through the Job Corps, Gutierrez has excelled at every opportunity to advance in the academic and legal world. The Boise State and Hastings Law School (University of California) graduate is a pillar in our community and a living example of achieving the “American Dream.” He has served on several Supreme Court committees and been co-chair of the Judicial Recruitment Committee.
Clive Strong began his career working in a variety of agricultural jobs in the Magic Valley to earn money and pay college bills. He used his forest business management degree from the University of Idaho to land a job in the industry before heading to U of I for law school and later the University of Michigan for an advanced law degree. In 1983 he was hired by the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and soon after named chief of the Natural Resource Division, the beginning of an extraordinary career defending Idaho’s sovereignty over its natural resources. Along the way he has argued numerous cases before the Idaho Supreme Court and two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Strong’s crowning achievement was guiding the state and stakeholders through the often gnarly and complicated water rights negotiations during Snake River Basin Adjudication from 1987 to 2014.
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Our deliberations on these two candidates had to carry over to a second day because we were so impressed with both. We would be delighted with the election of either Gutierrez or Strong, but choose Strong because of the unique natural resources skill set he would bring to the bench, a level of knowledge and experience that is likely to come into play over and over in a state such as Idaho. Strong’s management strengths can be applied to any topic that would come before the court, and his analytical skills would benefit its ongoing work. Beyond water rights, there is ample evidence of his ability to consider constitutional matters at both the state and federal level.
We’re careful not to overemphasize lists of people who endorse a candidate, but Strong’s backers are stunning in their generational, geographical, bipartisan and eclectic range. The list of more than 150 people — including former governors, current legislative leaders and academics — reads like a Who’s Who of Idaho. It underscores Strong’s reputation for fairness, collaboration and intellect in the face of daunting challenges, all attributes we found evident in our research and during our interview.
We like Strong in the May 17 race for the Idaho Supreme Court, but would advocate that Gutierrez stay in the mix for future openings. Both men exemplify the best of Idaho.
Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. Note: Community Member William Myers did not weigh in for this endorsement because he had previously endorsed one of the four candidates. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@ idahostatesman.com.
Hear the Supreme Court candidates this week
▪ Wednesday: City Club of Boise hosts a candidate lunch forum, 11:45 a.m., The Grove Hotel, Boise. Cost is $18 for members, $25 for nonmembers, $10 for students, and $5 to listen without a meal. Reserve a spot by noon Monday at cityclubofboise.org.
▪ Friday: Idaho Public Television hosts an hourlong forum at 8 p.m. Airs live and will be available for later viewing at idahoptv.org. Presented in partnership with the League of Women Voters of Idaho and the Idaho Press Club.