“I loved being a judge,” says Dubofsky of her
years on the Colorado Supreme Court. “But I
could see cases starting to repeat themselves.”
always go look up the answers. So I didn’t
find that part daunting. It was a little
harder—although my colleagues couldn’t
have been more supportive—being the first
woman on the court, and being a generation
younger than the others.
Q: Apparently you were the youngest
Colorado Supreme Court justice ever.
Q: When you left in 1987 to return to
Q: Was that you?
private practice, were you also the
youngest to leave?
A: That I couldn’t tell you. There are some
people who come and don’t stay too long at
all. There are some who just don’t like it. It’s
way too isolating.
A: Well, I felt I’d been on the court long
enough. I loved being a judge. But I could see
cases starting to repeat themselves. On some
things, I could feel I’d already made up my
mind and wasn’t listening as carefully. And,
boy, the years go flying fast when the only
thing that changes are your law clerks. You sit
at the same desk all day long, every day, and
you don’t go out and about very much.
Q: Because of that—the cases beginning
to repeat themselves—would you argue in
favor of term limits for justices?
Q: Have you done that? Made that
A: I usually stay out of [those] fights. Quite
often, the people who are pushing term
limits want to change the character of
courts. For example, as more and more
Republicans have been appointed over
recent years, you don’t hear many people
pushing for term limits anymore.
Q: So now’s the time.
A: [Laughs] I suppose. Anyway, somebody
else will have to do that.
Q: Beyond the technological, what are
the big changes in the law during your
A: Oh, the treatment of women. Definitely.
When I began practicing law and placed
a call to another lawyer, more often than
not the secretary who answered the phone
would ask me, “And who are you calling for?”
Only after I assured the secretary that I was
an attorney would my call be put through.
Now women are everywhere. Women are
judges, district attorneys and state attorneys
general. When I went on the court, I don’t
think there’d been a woman attorney general
ever in the country—let alone U.S. attorney
general. District attorneys were almost
always men. There’s just been a sea change.
Q: What was this like for you back then?
A: I always felt that I was watched more
carefully. So if I did a good job I was
remembered more than perhaps I should
have been, and if I did a poor job, you know,
people wouldn’t forget it. I once gave a talk
in Denver and one of the attorneys that I had
known for many, many years, an African-American man, came up to me afterward and
said, “I’ve always felt the exact same way.”
Q: Did you feel like there was a great
weight on you as a result?
A: You just had to work harder.
Q: And if you failed it would reflect upon …
A: Upon me and—until there were more
Q: Did you feel this was ultimately a
Q: What drew you to the law in the first
positive or a negative?
A: Ultimately it worked very much in my
favor. That’s why I ended up on the state
A: I was an undergraduate at Stanford and
thinking I would get a Ph.D. in history. That’s
what I’d majored in and I liked it. I had a
political science professor, his wife had just
gotten a Ph.D. in history at Harvard, and he
said she couldn’t find a job anywhere in the
country. He said, “Times haven’t changed
enough for women. You’ll be much better able
to find employment if you go to law school.”
Q: Did you know any lawyers growing up?
A: I worked a couple of summers for General
Mills in Minneapolis; and their general
counsel took me under his wing and let
me sit through a bunch of things he did
during the day. Most of them had a lot of
intellectual content to them. It just seemed
that being a lawyer gave you a breadth of
type of things you could work on. You would
always be practicing law, but it could be
business, it could be civil rights work, it could
be any number of things.
Q: How did you become a legislative
assistant to Sen. Walter Mondale?
A: Well, I went to Washington after I
finished law school [at Harvard, in 1967].
It was really hard for women to find jobs
as lawyers then. It was at a time when
public interest law was just beginning to
be popular. Legal Services, for example,
had just been created. And a number of my
friends from law school wanted to work in
Legal Services. But most of the women in my
law school class—we were about 2 percent
of the class—went to Washington, because
government hired women in jobs that were
relatively interesting. And I got a job with