Electing judges politicizes the courts

The Seattle Times editorial board wants to elect all judges, including part-timers on the Municipal Court, claiming that elected judges are more independent.


So the argument, I suppose, is that the best way to take politics out of judicial decisions is to turn all our judges into politicians, huh?

Sure, the Times makes a reasonable sounding argument that directly electing judges might make them more independent from those who would otherwise appoint them. (Though they neglect to provide any evidence that our Municipal Courts currently lack judicial independence.) But even if the Times is right, judicial elections would likely make judges more dependent on those who would finance their campaigns… and right now, there are absolutely no restrictions on individual contributions to judicial candidates.

National organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce are already spending hundreds of millions of dollars on local judicial races, completely changing the ideological complexion of courts in state after state. Here in WA, the aggressively political Building Association of Washington — an organization with ties to right-wing militia groups — spent at least $500,000 putting their lawyer, Jim Johnson, on the state Supreme Court.

Most judicial races continue to be low profile, low money affairs, making them the Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues of political Monopoly. A relatively small injection of cash into a campaign where name recognition is your most valuable asset, can easily determine the outcome, making judicial races an absolute bargain for wealthy special interests intent on monopolizing our courts.

But what we need on the courts are judges who know the law, not those who know how to appeal to wealthy backers or even fickle voters. Our judicial system is supposed to be free from politics, not absolutely dependent on it.

A better solution might be one in which an independent commission recommends limited slates of qualified candidates for open judicial seats, subject to executive appointment and legislative confirmation. Once appointed, judges would serve for life, subject to periodic retention votes in which the public gets to cast a thumbs up or down on each sitting judge. Such a system would ensure judicial independence from both those who appointed them, and from the whims of public sentiment… not to mention wealthy special interests. It would also unclutter the ballot of judicial races on which, quite frankly, most voters (including myself) are usually unqualified to make an informed decision.

The Times proposal, to elect more judges, has a simple, populist appeal. But it will do nothing to increase the quality and independence of judges serving on our Municipal Courts.


  1. 1

    Little Lost Lamb spews:

    Very interesting comments all. But you all miss the point. This is not about how we choose judges, but about whether or not the judge is under the thumb of the city council. Elect or appoint – good arguements either way. The issue is do the executive and legislative branches of city government get to decide whether a judge keeps her job or not. Do you want to argue your speeding ticket before a judge who is getting pressure from the council to raise revenue? I don’t. Until we come up with a better way of selecting and retaining all judges, we should take the mayor and council out of deciding should the judge stay or go and put the people in charge.

  2. 2

    DA WO spews:


  3. 3

    Drivel spews:

    Richard @ 40, I agree with you on 50% of your comment.

    BIAW of having strong ties to right-wing militia groups
    BIAW of having strong ties to Communist dictators.

    Thanks for enlightening us with the truth!

  4. 4

    Anonymous spews:

    Goldy, You can make my posts disappear faster than Broward County, Florida can “discover” new Democrat votes!!

  5. 5

    Roger Rabbit spews:


    “There already are term limits for all public offices. Comment by GBS— 2/27/06 @ 3:49 pm”

    Not where Diebold voting machines are used.

  6. 6

    Roger Rabbit spews:


    “with equal accuracy, you can accuse the Democrat Party of having strong ties to right-wing militia groups”

    Hogwash, Richard! Goldy documented the BIAW’s connections with, and support of, individuals and groups involved in the militia movement. He named organizations and individuals. What more do you want?

  7. 7

    Roger Rabbit spews:


    Dunno about publicly-financed campaigns, but term limits would require amending the federal and state constitutions, which is hard to do. Both federal and state courts have declared legislatively-enacted term limits unconstitutional. I have mixed feelings about term limits, because I don’t think high-level elective positions are suitable for amateurs — just look at Minnesota’s disastrous experience with Jesse Ventura. I think there are strong argments in favor of professional politicians.

  8. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:


    “You mean like the way the lying, Constitutional-hating, scumbags are doing right now in DC?”

    Yeah, that’s what I’m referring to! Anyone who wants to do away with judicial elections should take a good look at how federal judges have been selected for the last 5 years — and prior to that, how the Republicans since 1994 have blocked the Democrats from appointing any federal judges.

  9. 9

    Richard Pope spews:

    Accusing the BIAW of having strong ties to right-wing militia groups is about as factually accurate as accusing the Democrat Party of having strong ties to Communist dictators.

    And with equal accuracy, you can accuse the Democrat Party of having strong ties to right-wing militia groups or the BIAW of having strong ties to Communist dictators.

  10. 10

    GBS spews:

    Correx. @ 37:

    It should read “for all publically ‘elected’ offices.”

    Lifetime appointments not included.

  11. 13

    GBS spews:

    RR @ 30:
    Do you guys really want a Governor Rossi appointing all of our state’s judges, including those in Seattle? Or a Republican-controlled legislature confirming (or not confirming) them?

    You mean like the way the lying, Constitutional-hating, scumbags are doing right now in DC?

    No, thank you. I’d prefer to preserve democracy.

  12. 14

    Libertarian spews:

    I’ll see your publicly-financed campaigns with spending limits and raise you term limits for all elected officials.

  13. 15

    GBS spews:




    Now, go outside and play “army” with that lying piece of shit scumbag, JCH.


  14. 17

    Roger Rabbit spews:


    We should shitcan the whole system of private financing of campaigns and go to a system of publicly-financed campaigns with spending limits. Otherwise, we will never be able to defeat the corrupting influence of money in politics. No matter what restrictions we enact, they will always find loopholes.

  15. 18

    Roger Rabbit spews:


    “Goldy and I [Hillary] will pick the judges as we know best! Comment by Hillary [JCH]Clinton— 2/27/06 @ 11:42 am”

    Now here is perhaps the most illuminating post in this thread! It is much easier for outfits like the BIAW and GOP to get control of a centralized judicial appointment process than it is for them to win judicial elections one at a time. Don’t take it for granted that we’ll always have a Democratic-controlled government in this state, especially if touch-screen voting machines are installed in more counties. Try to imagine JCH or Kevin Carnes (who are quite possibly one and the same) being chosen by BIAW to be in charge of judicial selection.

  16. 19

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    6, 7

    I’d want to know whether Missouri voters actually remove bad judges, or if they sit on Missouri’s courts forever. Years ago, I lived in Missouri for a while, and never heard of a judge being voted out of office (except maybe those accused of being too liberal). Has anything changed?

  17. 20

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    7, 8

    Do you guys really want a Governor Rossi appointing all of our state’s judges, including those in Seattle? Or a Republican-controlled legislature confirming (or not confirming) them? Have a little foresight, guys. Also, think about what letting the executive and legislative branchs choose the judicial branch would do to separation of powers.

  18. 21

    Roger Rabbit spews:


    “Can anyone who is not a lawyer name the justices of the Washington State Supreme Court?”

    Sure — a lot of people could tell you that Bobbe Bridges is a WSSC justice, thanks to the publicity surrounding her DUI episode. Bridges was a local district court judge without notable legal accomplishments who married Bridges Jewelery money and used it to buy herself a seat on the WSSC.

  19. 22

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    3, 4

    I’ve noticed the GOP has all the KKK thugs now. Byrd is ex-KKK, and Jesus loves repentent sinners. I’ll take a reformed ex-sinner over a shameless, conscienceless, practicing sinner any day of the week and twice on Sundays!

  20. 24

    GBS spews:

    Clarice, tell us how your father abused you growing up. Tell us how your parents failed to teach you right from wrong. Explain how they failed to teach you that lying is wrong.

    Yes, Clarice, do tell. . .

  21. 25

    GBS spews:

    The RNC must be paying you the big bucks JCH to keep posting here. Did you report to your handlers that your military cover story was blown?

    No, of course you didn’t. Why? Because your a fucking liar. Like all Republicans and conservatives.

  22. 26

    GBS spews:

    . . . have YOU ever “buckled up” in a Mach 2 F-106? Not for pussies I washed out of Naval Air [bad GI] and served Surface Line [1110]. Flying [and training] in military jets are not for the Bill Clintons of the world.]
    Comment by JCH — 1/24/06 @ 4:37 pm

    Apparently, flying Mach 2 and telling the truth isn’t for you either, Clarice.

    Tell us, Clarice, when you say [GI] do you mean you couldn’t keep your hemorrhoids from popping out of your ass in a 5 G turn?

    Is that why you WASHED-OUT? Did you receive too much “Tookie Williams” style lovin’ in OTC to prevent your hemmies from shooting out? Do you still have a sloppy sphincter?

    Did you have “duty rack” every night in the Bachelor Officers Quarters? Hmmmmm. . . was that it?

    Was is it uncomfortable to have your hemorrhoids shoot out under such strain as a 5 G turn?

    Oh, that’s right, it’s not for pussies and you never got to fly. You must have failed your flight physical. When you have hemorrhoids hanging to your knees, there’s no sense in going any further with the pilot training is there?

    Nope. Off to the Gator Navy, they need a Supply Officer to keep the Jar Heads happy.

    Liar. Loser. Piss Ant.

  23. 27

    wilco spews:

    A good interim step would be contribution limits. If we are going to keep judge positions being elected, at least level the playing field. Now the moneyed interests ON BOTH SIDES OF THE AISLE have an undue influence on how judges rule. Contribution limits to their campaigns would level the playing field in a way that is more consistent with democratic principles.

  24. 28

    headless lucy spews:

    If you want someone to talk to who’s your own level, Octo[JCH]Poiséé, here I am, signed , sealed, delivered–I’m yours!!!

  25. 29

    Hillary [JCH]Clinton spews:

    Bill and I support NEA controlled public schools for “those people”, as we flew over hundreds on the way to Sidwell Friends and Stanford.

  26. 32

    BabyBush spews:

    I was in the army. I was a real army man. Except for the time I went AWOL and chickened out from serving my country when they needed me, I was an army man. Really I was. Ask my daddy.

  27. 33

    Hillary [JCH]Clinton spews:

    Although I was on the Board of Directors of WALMART for years, WALMART is now bad because they have “disrespected” the union thugs.

  28. 35

    ConservativeFirst spews:

    I have to agree with Goldy on this issue.

    I do see somewhat of a loophole. A wealthy special interest group, or in power political party seeking to appoint more judges, could mount a “vote no” campaign for judges that they have philosophical disagreements with.

  29. 39

    Steve Zemke at MajorityRulesBlog spews:

    The Washington State Legislature is addressing the issue of campaign contribution limits for judges. The House has passed 3SHB 1226 to apply campaign contribution limits to candidates running for State Supreme Court and the Appellate Court. The bill is currently in the Senate Rules Committee. For State Supreme Court the contribution limit would be the same as for other state races, like for Governor, namely $1400 per election. Washington State is currently one of only 4 states that elect judges that does not have campaign contribution limits.

    At http://www.MajorityRules.org we note that

    “In the 2004 Supreme Court race, special interest money overwhelmed the voice and impact of smaller contributors. The Building Industry Association of Washington or BIAW, on 8/17/2004 gave James M Johnson, the Supreme Court candidate who beat Mary Kay Becker, a $50,000 contribution. On 8/27/2004 they donated another $40,000. On 10/8/2004 BIAW’s PAC, the Washington Affordable Housing Council, gave an additional $30,000. Also on 10/8/2004 the BIAW’s Member Services Corp gave $20,000. On 10/27/2004 two other PAC’s, Change PAC 2004 and It’s Time for a Change, gave $12,500 each. Both these PAC’s are run by Elliot Swaney, BIAW’s Political Affairs Director. He is the Treasurer for both these PAC’s and the only officer listed on the PDC reports. He is also the treasurer of the third BIAW PAC listed.

    All told some 39% of James M. Johnson $539,418 campaign contributions came from the BIAW, its associated PAC’s and other affiliated building groups. Johnson won the election. Johnson visited the BIAW’s office in Olympia, WA on election night to thank them for their help. No wonder! A total of only six contributions directly from the BIAW and its three PACs, equaling $165,000 was more than the total amount of $158,119 raised by his opponent Mary Kay Becker for her whole campaign”.

    This issue is further discussed at http://www.MajorityRules.org/blog. What we note is that unfortunately what is eliminated from the campaign contribution limits being considered are PAC’s.

    “The BIAW alsospent some $569,009 of so called independent PAC money helping elect Rob McKenna Washington State Attorney General. Giving a contribution directly to McKenna’s committee would have limited them to some $2700. Spending it separately from the candidate’s committee put no limits on how much could be raised from individual donors. That’s why on election night he personally thanked them for helping get him elected.”

    Unless the Legislature includes limiting what can be given to individual PAC’s a giant loophole exists in limiting the influence of special interest money. One simple way to do this is to limit an individual’s total contribution to a candidate not just to the candidate’s campaign commiittee but to all campaign committees that are spending money on that particular candidate. That would help to reduce the influence of special interest contributions in an election. It would help to level the playing field.

  30. 40

    middleoftheroader spews:

    For once I almost completely agree with Goldy. Retention votes are the perfect medium between allowing the public to retain ultimate control over the judicial branch and ensuring that we possess the “best” and most “independent” judiciary. I quibble with his independent commission proposal @2, but it is a good starting place.

  31. 41

    Cougar spews:

    I agree with you rhp6033, Let the powers to be ‘appoint’ the judges at the beginning. Then with their own rulings in mind, the voters can retain or ‘fire’ the judges, lets say every two years.

  32. 42

    Goldy spews:

    rhp6033 @6,

    That’s exactly the type of system I mean when I talk about a retention vote. Voter’s have a regular opportunity to remove bad judges.

  33. 43

    You are the horse\'s ass spews:

    For once you post something that shows your brain is not 100% full of progressive horse shit.

  34. 44


    And let me just say off the bat, to those who would attack the concept of an “independent commission”, if you believe you can elect independent judges, why would an independent commission be impossible?

    Personally, I would suggest that it be composed of a mix of appointed and elected seats… perhaps the governor, the legislature, and the state Supreme court each get to appoint a representative, as does the WA Bar Association, the dean of the UW Law School, and the county prosecutors association. There would also be a few directly elected commissioners.

    Whatever its composition, some mix like that could be devised to make it representative and independent. It should also be unpaid.

  35. 45

    Voter Advocate spews:

    I’ve noticed that Byrd’s KKK past became much more a topic of rightie concern, once Strom Thurmond died.

  36. 47

    rhp6033 spews:

    Can anyone who is not a lawyer name the justices of the Washington State Supreme Court? Is there any reason that 90% of the electorate could not name a single justice, or offer any informed opinion as to whether they are suited for their job or not?

    I remember studying this issue when I was in college some 30 years ago. Both appointment and election systems have their advantages and drawbacks. It seems no one is really happy with any of the choices.

    Personally, I prefer the Missouri Plan – a mixed system which starts with an appointment, which then must be regularly confirmed under a “yes/no” vote. It allows you remove the really bad judges, without undue political influence on the rest of them.

  37. 48

    Hillary [JCH]Clinton spews:

    Republicans are KKK, not Senator Byrd. Felons in prison need to vote. If felons can’t vote, that is racist.

  38. 49

    GBS spews:

    Kim Jong-il Day-Woo @ 57

    No, I didn’t get out on bad paper.

    I actually spent the majority of my time not working in my specific job rating as an “Engineman.” I had other priorities, but they had to do with MILITARY SERVICE. You chump.

    When is the last time you and I had a philosophical discussion on life? Never. So how could you possibly know my outlook on life? You don’t. Typical conservative; taling out of your ass.

    Here’s the real kicker though, Kim Jong-il, you were a lowly, dirty, sweaty mess cook. That means you were in the service sector cooking, washing, and getting meals ready for the men. Well, at least you knew your place. Sucks not being the lead dog, doesn’t it?

    BTW, how does my ass smell today?