SOU alumna Virginia Linder (’75), who retired as an Oregon Supreme Court justice in 2016, says that being an undergraduate at what was then Southern Oregon State College in the 1970s was an ideal time for her.
“It was the civil rights period, the beginning of the women’s rights movement,” she says. “I and most of my generation of lawyers were heavily influenced by that; Southern Oregon State College was right there in the thick of it.”
Linder came from the Sacramento area and chose SOSC because it reflected her love of the outdoors, and Oregon had a reputation for being environmentally aware.
“I had planned to visit other Oregon colleges, but stopped at SOSC,” she says. “I liked the small college atmosphere and the town. It was in a beautiful setting and just right for me.”
A political science major with plans to get a teaching credential, Linder says that law was always in the back of her mind.
“I came from a long line of teachers, and teaching was always in my blood. Being a lawyer was more of a gleam in my eye at first,” she says.
The turning point in her career path came when, during her studies, she fell in with a group of pre-law students.
“I was the only woman, and the experience with those guys who were planning to go to law school became really reinforcing for me,” she says. “They created a campus political party, created a platform, and invited me to run for student senate. That got me involved with student government. It was very enriching.”
Linder says another appeal of SOSC was the speakers who came to campus.
“So many interesting people came and spoke with us,” she says. “Students could talk about issues and meet real people. SOSC offered the whole marketplace of ideas that college is supposed to be.”
One such person Linder met was then-Senator (later, Justice) Betty Roberts who was running for governor at the time.
“I got to speak with her and shake her hand. I never would have imagined having a career track in which she was such an icon,” Linder says.
Justice Roberts was the first woman appointed to the Oregon Supreme Court and a trail blazer in the state. When she first met Roberts at SOSC, Linder had no idea that Roberts would become a friend and mentor – or that nearly 25 years after Roberts’ appointment, Linder would also serve on Oregon’s Supreme Court.
After graduating SOSC, Linder attended Willamette Law School and clerked for the Oregon attorney general’s office. She later joined the Appellate Division and then took on the role as assistant solicitor general. In 1986, she was appointed Oregon solicitor general. Linder was the first woman to hold that position and served in that office for longer than anyone else in state history.
In that capacity, she was the administrator and chief counsel of the Appellate Division of the Oregon Department of Justice, representing the state in a variety of complex appeals. Linder was also directly and actively involved on the state’s behalf in all matters before the U.S. Supreme Court and was the first woman to argue a case on Oregon’s behalf in the United States Supreme Court (which she won, by the way).
Linder’s strong legal work, integrity and commitment to service led to an appointment in 1997 to the Oregon Court of Appeals by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber. In 2006, she became the first woman in the history of the state to be elected to the Oregon Supreme Court. It was against two men who outspent her by more than three to one.
“No woman had run and gotten on the court by election,” she says. “My election was perceived as having knocked another hole in the glass ceiling.”
Linder says the election was very tight, and she was happily surprised at the outcome.
“I remember waking up the morning after the election and Googling my name to see updated election returns,” she says. “The first thing that popped up was a Wikipedia page about me and the fact of my election to the Oregon Supreme Court. It sounded like history.”
Reprinted from the Fall 2016 issue of The Raider, SOU’s alumni magazine