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Washington Supreme Court Election

Washington has elections for its state supreme court with named opponents rather than yes/no confirmations. It's not the optimum system, in my opinion, but it is better than life tenure. The Seattle Post Intelligencer has this blog post on a recent debate. The post notes that incumbent Justice Jim Johnson came off well.

A fellow incumbent, Justice Richard Sanders, fared less well when faced off against challenger Charlie Wiggins, a Bainbridge attorney who briefly served on the Washington State Court of Appeals.

Sanders appeared righteous, rigid and prickly. Wiggins smoothly made his point that the Supremes need a new voice.

Wiggins argued that the outspoken Sanders has not shown a judicial temperament, and his opinions reflect "not a pattern of impartially" but rather advocacy.

In criminal cases where the Supreme Court has issued divided opinions, Sanders has backed the defendant 94 percent of the time. In cases on disciplining lawyers, when the Court has been divided, he has favored the lawyer against recommended discipline 90 percent of the time.

They also got into the bizarre incident at the November 2008 Federalist Society convention.

Wiggins took Sanders to task for a famous episode at a Washington, D.C., dinner of the right-thinking Federalist Society.

Sanders stood up and yelled "Tyrant!" at then-Attorney General Michael Mukasy, who was in process of deciding on prosecution of terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay. Mukasy is a former federal judge.

"The issue is a matter of decorum and judgment," Wiggins argued. "It was wrong for a justice of the Washington State Supreme Court to stand up and heckle the Attorney General of the United States and call him a 'tyrant'.

"We want judges for their judgment, and this was not good judgment."

Sanders saw the episode as an obligation to speak out.

"In the Soviet Union I don't think any of the actors were ever punished for abusing prisoners," he said.

This is almost as bizarre as the original incident. I was there, and I wrote the FedSoc President to recommend that Justice Sanders be disinvited from future meetings. They decide not to do that, after Sanders seemed contrite and apologized to Mukasey.

But Sanders' contrition is apparently gone. He compares his lack of basic decorum at a private social event to protests against the Soviet Gulag!  What a jackass.  Let us hope the voters of Washington have the sense to dump this disgrace to their state high court.


As a Washingtonian, I speak from personal experience when I say that "jackass" doesn't even begin to describe Justice Sanders. Thank you for covering these issues.

Update: The Seattle Times has endorsed Sanders. The editorial is worth reading, if only for the fact that it is a stunning example of flawed reasoning:


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