Seattle attorney Jenny Durkan spoke for the bill at a recent meeting of the Federalist Society, arguing that all the mudslinging undermines the public image of an impartial court.Ah, yes. "Mudslinging." Yet another way to say "mudslinging" is "stuff that may be true and relevant but makes my guy look bad." And still another way to pronounce "mudslinging" is "freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Up for discussion was a pending proposal in the state legislature to allow public funding for those elections, supposedly because they would then be more high minded, less "political," and would allow each side to look "impartial." Whatever that means. According to Ramsey:
This, of course, solves none of the "problems" that are being complained about. Mud would still be slung, sides would be taken, "private money" and "special interest groups" (i.e., politically astute and engaged citizens exercising their Constitutional rights) would still spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. Washington Supreme Court Justices would still be linked to the people and groups who endorsed, supported, and funded their campaigns.
Under this proposed system, if you were an unknown figure challenging a sitting justice, you would essentially be forced to file as a private-sector candidate. You would raise your own money. When your spending topped $84,836, for every additional dollar you spent, the government would cut your publicly funded rival (or rivals) a check for the same amount. If you spent $50,000 on a fundraiser that grossed you $60,000, it would be a gain of $10,000 for you, but your opponent would bank a $50,000 check, because that is what you spent.
If a group friendly to you spent $100,000 to slime your government-financed opponent, your opponent would get a check for $100,000. If a group friendly to him did that to you, you would get nothing.The government would match the spending on your side up to $678,691 in the primary and the same in the general election, if there remained a contest. Your opponent could continue collecting beyond $678,691 if there were any money left, and if there weren't, he would be freed to solicit his private donors. By that time, your private donors might be tapped out.
That's democracy. And democracy isn't a "problem" I want to "solve."
What this is really about, of course, is that liberal members of our liberal court actually had to fight for their seats last November, and there were real discussions about issues of judicial activism, the role of the high court, and the extraordinary power of the Justices. And liberals like Durkan and state Senator Oemig (sponsor of the "reform") don't for a second want their hold over the judiciary to be even threatened to be threatened by some moron redneck out in Moses Lake who doesn't even listen to NPR. The concern over the horrors of actually allowing campaigns to influence voters has nothing to do with methodology and everything to do with content of political speech and ideology.
Personally, this is why I think judges should be appointed by the Governor. No judge who must stand for election and re-election can truly look "impartial." The way to insulate the judiciary from political influence is to not let them be politicians. Otherwise, we simply elect a redundant Super-Legislature increasingly signaling their willingness to use their power to mandate their personal policy agendas.
So long as we vote for judges, the state judiciary will be a political (even if remaining officially non-partisan) branch of the government. For better or worse, the people of this state have chosen a political method for checking the power of the judiciary. Until we amend the state Constitution, we need to accept that method of accountability, with all the warts that go with it - including all those dirty, biased, and very partial exercises of our First Amendment rights.