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Hon. Betty Roberts ‘66, Oregon’s first female Supreme Court justice, dies

June 28, 2011

  • Hon. Betty Roberts '66

Hon Betty Roberts ‘66 died Saturday, June 25, 2011 of pulmonary fibrosis in her Portland home, surrounded by her four children. She was 88.

In the 1950s, Roberts did what most of her contemporaries considered audacious and inappropriate when she returned to college as a 32-year-old wife and mother. This was only the start of Roberts’ lifetime commitment to overcoming obstacles to women’s equality.

Roberts was elected to the Oregon House in 1964 as a Democrat from Multnomah County and won re-election in 1966. In 1968, she won election to the Oregon Senate and became the only woman in the Senate at that time. She was a co-sponsor of the nation’s first bottle bill, requiring bottles to be eligible for a refund to encourage recycling and reduce litter.

In 1974, Roberts ran for governor but lost in the Democratic primary to Robert Straub, the eventual winner. Later that year, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, Wayne Morse, died. Roberts was picked to fill his spot on the November ballot but lost to incumbent Republican Bob Packwood.

In 1977, Straub appointed Roberts to a new position on an expanded Oregon Court of Appeals. She was the first female appellate judge. Gov. Vic Atiyeh elevated her to the Oregon Supreme Court in 1982, a position she resigned in 1986.

Roberts remained active in politics after stepping down from the bench. She helped organize opposition in Oregon to Robert Bork’s U.S. Supreme Court nomination, served as a visiting professor in political science at Oregon State University and she served on the state’s Commission on Higher Education in the late 1980s.

In March 2004, she presided over the first legal same-sex marriage when it was briefly allowed in Multnomah County.

Survivors include her daughters, Dian Odell and Jo Rice; sons John Rice Jr. and Randy Rice; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.


Donations in Honor of Justice Betty Roberts

Each year, Lewis & Clark Law School hosts the Hon. Betty Roberts Women in the Law Program.  The program features a lecture on issues facing women in the law profession and a CLE. The program is open to the public. 

Donation Information:

1. Click on Donation link

2. Select “Other”

3. Type in “Betty Robert”


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