In historic vote, Senate confirms Nancy Waples to Vermont Supreme Court

Judge Nancy Waples during her virtual confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 18. Screenshot

Updated at 6:47 p.m.

The Vermont Senate made history Friday with a 27-0 vote to confirm Nancy Waples to the state Supreme Court, seating the first woman of color on the state’s highest bench.

Gov. Phil Scott nominated Waples to the seat last month, promoting the 61-year-old Hinesburg resident from her role as a Superior Court judge, which she had held since 2015. She will take the former judge’s seat Beth Robinson, who left the five-member bench to accept President Joe Biden’s nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

More than 800 kilometers away in the nation’s capital, the US Senate is also about to make judicial history. Senators on Thursday wrapped up a series of U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Biden’s nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, who would be the first black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, if she were confirmed (which seems likely).

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Waples’ parents fled the communist revolution in China to Canada and then to the United States. Waples worked in his parents’ restaurant in New York and learned to speak English at age 9.

She then earned her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and then her law degree from St. John’s University of Law in New York. She then worked as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and then as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont. She was practicing at the Burlington law firm Hoff Curtis when then-Governor Peter Shumlin appointed her in December 2014 to serve on the state’s superior court.

“My parents traveled halfway around the world with literally nothing more than the clothes on their backs to live in a place that didn’t speak their language, where they had no friends or family,” Waples said in a press release on February 2. 25, the day of his appointment. “They came here looking for better opportunities and longing for a dignified and decent life. They share my pride in receiving this historic appointment.

With Waples’ confirmation, the Vermont Supreme Court includes three men – Chief Justice Paul Reiber and Justices William Cohen and Harold Eaton – and two women – Justice Karen Carroll and Waples.

In a following statement, Scott said he was “thrilled” by the Senate’s vote.

“Judge Waples is a distinguished public servant, an accomplished jurist and will bring invaluable perspective to the judiciary,” he said. “I know she will be an exemplary addition to the Court, and I look forward to having the honor of swearing her into this position in the coming days.”

Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray also celebrated Waples’ confirmation in a Friday afternoon statement, referring to her own experience as a young lawyer in Vermont, when she “admired Judge Waples, who was an active mentor for women in the bar.

“She is a pioneer and a deeply qualified and experienced member of the legal community,” Gray continued. “Vermont will be better on his serve and I offer him my sincerest congratulations on his confirmation!”

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