University of Denver

IAALS Advances Justice with Mary McQueen

Founding Executive Director

IAALS simply would not be what it is without the support of our partners and friends. They are essential to our efforts and hail from a wide range of backgrounds, viewpoints, and sectors. Every month, IAALS will shine the spotlight on one such person and take you behind the scenes for a lighthearted glimpse into those upon whose guidance and support we rely. Together we are advancing justice.

Mary McQueen, President, National Center for State Courts

Mary McQueen is a leader and a visionary. Mary and I first met many, many years ago—when she was the State Court Administrator in Washington and I was on the Colorado Supreme Court. By the time I started IAALS, she had become the President of the National Center for State Courts. She was one of the first people I reached out to, because I saw so many natural partnerships that we could forge between IAALS and the National Center—and indeed we have.

At that first meeting, she had a copy of the Federalist Papers at hand—she wanted to talk about the Constitutional mandate of the courts, and the critical role they play in the history and the future of our form of government. And then, she wanted to talk about our kids and where we both buy travel clothes and how to remember your room number when you get back from dinner or a workout at your twentieth hotel of the year. In short, that meeting was a microcosm of Mary: brilliant, learned, fun, practical, and engaged.

Mary can work with a roomful of people to develop areas of consensus while still honoring differences and reservations. She bursts through red tape like a runner at the end of a marathon, and she never, ever says "it cannot be done." NCSC, the State courts of the nation, and IAALS are all very, very lucky to have the benefit of Mary’s wise (and joyful) service.

We caught up with Mary for February’s Partner Profile.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Happiness starts with self-honesty. I believe it’s a choice to look at the glass as half full and not as half empty. By choosing to feel positive, I am happy. There are those moments of pleasure that come from saying to myself, I’ve done my best and I’ve made a meaningful contribution.  

Which living person do you most admire? Queen Elizabeth II. I admire and appreciate her constant growth. When I think about all of the incredible challenges and societal changes that she has dealt with, both personally and professionally, I am impressed by how she has maintained such a high level of regard. We can look at major events during her reign and see how she has made a contribution while adapting and growing.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Orderliness and humility. I think coloring within the lines and being humble are overrated. My southern mother told me, “great ladies have to learn to accept gifts graciously.” And by that she meant you have to respect and acknowledge the gift that someone chose to give you. Being humble can be a disservice to the gift giver. Patience is also an overrated virtue. When we look at movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and now the student organizing that’s emanating from the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, patience only goes so far: then you have to act. 

What do you most value in your friends? Compassionate honesty. If your friends don’t help you look in the mirror, you can fool yourself. When you speak honestly and with love, that’s not hurtful. I highly value friends and colleagues who speak with compassionate honesty because there can be a hesitance to speak candidly to people in leadership positions. I value those who find a positive way to share an honest thought.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? Myself! I cannot imagine being anybody other than who I am. I’ve been so blessed with my family and my professional opportunities. I’d be a wiser version of myself, but I’d come back as myself.

What is it about IAALS that inspires your involvement and support? IAALS is willing to start the courageous conversation. Sometimesespecially with our system of justicethere is a hesitancy to challenge the status quo. IAALS has demonstrated courage in opening the tough conversation and has the ability to adapt and be creative in finding pathways where we didn’t think they existed.