Monday, May 26, 2008

How to Choose Our Judges

Judicial candidates are the wall flowers of the political process. They come to the election dance where voters don't know what to do with them.

We elect our judges in Washington; but voters usually know very little about them, in part, because the position is non-partisan and judges cannot run on a platform of promises about the outcome in future cases. Judicial races are last on the ballot and most folks probably haven't given much thought about what to look for in a judicial candidate.

So what should we look for?

All judges should know the law, possess a temperament to decide cases fairly and impartially, and be of unquestioned integrity. In addition, I offer the following suggestions about how to choose our judges and in particular our appellate and Supreme Court judges.

Our judges should be chosen after considering three criteria: experience, understanding the difference between judging and legislating, and the courage to speak truth to power.

First, a judge should have a broad range of experience in and outside the law. The most important role of the courts is to protect the people from the abuse of power, and if you haven't been around the block a few times, you may not know all the places where the power originates or how it is manifested. The range of experience should show curiosity and a willingness to learn new things. It might include handling all kinds of cases in courts all around the state, experience with both sides of civil and criminal cases, arguing appeals in all of our appellate courts and the Supreme Court, writing for publication, achieving an advanced law degree, and running a small business.

Second, a judge should clearly understand the difference between serving as judge and serving as legislator. The judge's job is to apply the law and Constitution as written and not as she or he wants it to be. The legislator's job is to write the law, which usually represents a compromise of competing factions. The judge should not take it upon herself or himself to re-write the laws or re-adjust the compromise. And if the people have spoken directly by initiative or referendum, then the judge should be especially vigilant to preserve the people's will.

Third, a judge should have the courage to speak truth to power. Very often that means government power; and its reach grows as the concern over security increases. But any institution is capable of abusing its power; and the judge needs to have the courage to call it to account.

Applying these criteria should enable us to choose our judges wisely.

Vote Bond for Justice.


Ellis Reyes said...

Mr. Bond,

As our society is evolving at an unprecedented rate, doesn't it make more sense for a jurist to be flexible in his or her interpretation of the law rather than remaining mired in the thinking of a bygone era?

Thank you for your response.

Advocatus Diaboli

Michael J. Bond said...

No. These Constitutional principles are the bedrock of our society. They are not the "thinking of a bygone era"; they are an inheritance with which we are encouraged to reach for a just society in which all people are equal, government power over us is limited, and liberty prevails.

If the people wish to revise or alter those principles, that is their right by leglislation or initiative; but changes to fundamental principles should not be imposed by the courts.

And the more rapidly society appears to evolve, the more important it becomes for the courts to refer to the fundamental consitutional principles that got us this far.