Most Influential

Most Influential, Politics: Steve Gonzalez

Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice

By Nat Rubio-Licht January 15, 2024

Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Steve Gonzalez

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Steve Gonzalez has always had an interest in social justice. While his law career started in international business law, he felt the most fulfilled doing pro bono civil rights cases.

“This nation was founded on the idea that we’re all entitled to equal rights, even if we didn’t have it at the time,” Gonzalez says. “And I think our job is to reinterpret those fundamental principles in a way that gives meaning to those principles to all of us.”

Now, that passion for providing access to justice for all translates into his work as chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court. Gonzalez has served on the court for 12 years, and has spent a quarter-century in the legal profession, working across both criminal and civil practices, as well as family and juvenile justice.

Gonzalez started his career as an associate attorney at Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson in Seattle, and after five years, shifted his career to focus on domestic violence prosecution as the assistant city attorney for the city of Seattle. “It paid a whole lot less, but I enjoyed the work very much and found it to be very meaningful, although hard,” he says.

He worked his way through several local and federal government law positions, including serving as assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington and as a judge for King County Superior Court. His legal work spans issues including human trafficking, hate crime, and terrorism prosecution.

In his current tenure, he has pushed for diversity and equity within legal procedures, including raising the pay of jurors to increase diversity, and using technology to increase access to justice, such as virtual court attendance.

He also serves on the board of the Washington Leadership Institute at the University of Washington School of Law, which aims to recruit and train lawyers that reflect the diversity of the state, and has mentored young lawyers at both UW and Seattle University.

The most important piece of advice he gives to those he mentors is simple: Being respected is more important than being liked. “Keeping your integrity is far more important than being popular or doing what people want you to do,” he adds.

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