September 7, 1998
Choosing judges in Washington State
by Charles Wiggins, a former judge on the Washington Court of Appeals
In the last two elections, one-third of voters did not vote in Washington State Supreme Court races. This year, 1/3 of the make-up of our Supreme Court will be determined by less than a majority of the electorate.
Judges do not run with party labels. Their races receive little news coverage and their positions are so technical that it is difficult for the average voter to know how well an incumbent judge is carrying out his duties. As a result, many Washington voters take a pass when judicial races are on the ballot. But judicial decisions can have a significant affect on our lives, from building sports stadiums to riding Jet Skis.
Qualities to look for in judicial candidates:
- A judge must be independent. To be effective, the judge must look beyond a particular set of ideological beliefs and decide cases on the basis of the legal issues presented.
- Examine the judicial candidate's background for a variety of personal and professional experiences that will broaden his support base. Look for diversity of opinion among those supporting the candidate.
- A judge must be fair and impartial. While candidates for other political offices are judged on how they say they will vote on a particular issue, judicial candidates are subject to strict guidelines governing what they can and cannot say during elections. Judicial candidates are prohibited from making pledges, promises or commitments on how they will vote on "hot button" issues that may come before them.
- Judges must interpret laws as they are written by the legislature; they cannot decide what the law should be.
- Examine the candidate's background for competence. The law is a highly technical field and a competent judge should have extensive academic training and legal experience.
Therefore, examine the candidate's background for his or her academic training, previous judicial experience, and other signs of legal competence.
- A thirst for justice. is an important quality in a judge. It is a desire to do what is fair and just and to decide every case in a way that is not only right under the law but just under the circumstances.