Chief Justice Nancy Rice to Retire in June

Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice on Wednesday announced she will retire from the state’s high court June 30.

“It’s the greatest honor of my life to have served Colorado as a judge for most of my
career,” Rice said in a news release. “I’m extremely proud of our system of justice in Colorado, which serves as a model for the nation in just and efficient outcomes. This wouldn’t be possible without our thousands of dedicated judicial officers and employees. I will sincerely miss being a part of this great system.”

Rice has served on the Colorado Supreme Court since her appointment in 1998 by then-Gov. Roy Romer, and succeeded retiring Chief Justice Michael Bender at the helm of the court in 2014. Rice previously served as a Denver District Court judge from 1997 to 1998. Before becoming a judge, she also served as an assistant U.S. attorney, deputy appellate chief in the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office, and deputy state public defender.

Rice received her undergraduate degree from Tufts University and her law degree from the University of Utah College of Law.

Rice’s replacement will mark Gov. John Hickenlooper’s fifth appointment to the Supreme Court. Since 1975, Govs. Bill Owens and Bill Ritter are the only two Colorado governors to appoint fewer than five by the end of their time in office. Colorado adopted the current merit judicial selection process in 1966.

Sean Connelly, an appellate attorney who previously served as a judge on the Colorado Court of Appeals, said in an email to Law Week that even with a governor appointing a large majority of justices, the state’s nonpartisan judicial selection process limits his or her ability to significantly transform the bench.

“…This governor is a moderate focused on competence over ideology,” he said. Connelly added that while Rice’s retirement will leave the Supreme Court leaning slightly left, the bench will still be “very much in the judicial mainstream.”

Rice has overseen a number of projects during her time at the head of the state judicial department. Some include advocating for funding of probationer rehabilitation programs, funding for improvements to courthouses around Colorado, and creating a task force to analyze truancy petitions. Most recently, Rice created a blue ribbon commission to consider possible bail reforms in the state.

“Chief Justice Rice’s leadership has helped bring about significant progress in numerous
aspects of Colorado’s judicial system,” said state court administrator Christopher Ryan in the news release. “In the many years I’ve known and worked with her, she’s been a staunch supporter of our efforts to ensure everybody has access to the justice system and has worked tirelessly to support many initiatives to improve the system.”

Connelly made one practical suggestion for Rice’s successor: Decrease the amount of time the Supreme Court takes in deciding whether to grant cert petitions.

“The U.S. Supreme Court takes only a few weeks to rule on cert petitions, while our Supreme Court takes months or sometimes even a year to decide simply whether to hear a case,” he said.

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission has yet to announce dates for interviewing applicants to fill the impending vacancy. Members of the court will choose a new chief justice among themselves.