1. Why do we elect judges in Washington?
In some states, judges are appointed. Most states,
including Washington, have judicial elections of one form or another.
Opinions vary on which method of selecting judges is the best: Some
people feel that judicial elections keep power in the hands of the
people; others feel that judges should not be subject to the political
forces that often accompany elections. Because the Washington
Constitution specifies that judges are to be elected, any change in
Washington's judicial selection
process would require a constitutional amendment.
2. Why are judicial elections
Judges make decisions about fundamental issues that
affect all of us — family life, education, health care, housing,
employment, discrimination, civil rights, public safety — and
those decisions can have long-lasting impact. It is critical that our
judges make fair decisions based upon open-minded and unbiased
consideration of the facts and the law in each case. Judges must know
the law, be independent, and be free from external political and
economic influences. Voting for qualified judges really does protect the
3. Why is the primary election
especially important for choosing judges?
Judicial positions are nonpartisan. Therefore, unlike
candidates running for legislative or executive offices, judicial
candidates are not competing in the primary to be a political party's
candidate on the general election ballot in November. For many judicial
positions, the "primary" election is the determinative event.
In elections for Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and
Superior Court, contested
positions generally appear on the primary ballot. If a judicial
candidate receives more than 50% of the votes in the primary, that
candidate will appear on the November ballot without opposition; the
primary will effectively determine the final outcome.
In District Court and Municipal Court elections, the candidates will appear on the primary
ballot if there are more than two candidates. Then, if no candidate
receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will face off
in the November election. If only two candidates file, however, the
position will not appear on the primary ballot, and voters will wait
until November to chose between the only two candidates.
4. What criteria should voters consider in electing judges?
In a report issued in 2003, the American Bar Association formulated eight enduring principles to guide the selection of judges. These are not recent principles, but reach back at least to 1780, when John Adams drafted the following statement in the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution:
It is essential to the preservation of the rights of
every individual, his life, liberty, property, and character, that
there be an impartial interpretation of the laws, and administration
of justice. It is the right of every citizen to be tried by judges
as free, impartial and independent as the lot of humanity will
These concepts are embodied in the American Bar Association’s statement of principles applicable to judges:
- Judges should uphold the rule of law.
- Judges should be independent.
- Judges should be impartial.
- Judges should possess the appropriate temperament and character.
- Judges should possess the appropriate capabilities and credentials.
- Judges and the judiciary should have the confidence of the public.
- The judicial system should be racially diverse and reflective of the society it serves.
Justice in Jeopardy: Report of the American Bar Association
Commission on the 21st Century Judiciary (2003). For a fuller explanation of these principles, visit
The American Judicature Society has also suggested performance
standards for appellate judges:
Treat all persons fairly, equally, and
without discrimination based on race, gender, income, or any
Conduct proceedings and make decisions
fairly, impartially, with an open mind, and without
consideration of public criticism.
Treat staff and attorneys with courtesy and
Demonstrate emotional maturity and
Act with patience and self-control.
Act in a manner that instills public
confidence in the judiciary.
Understand and apply the relevant rules of
law, evidence, and procedure.
Appreciate the importance of flexibility and
common sense in ensuring just results.
Demonstrate a commitment to improving the judicial system.
Appropriately enforce court rules, orders, and deadlines.
Make decisions and rulings in a prompt, timely manner.
Prepare well-thought-out, clearly presented
Most people would probably agree that these principles and standards are a good summary of what we should look for in a judge.
5. Where did you get information about the
Candidates submit information to the Secretary of State for its Voter
Guide, and some counties publish their own Voter Guides. We will duplicate most of that information here for
judicial candidates, when the Voter Guides become available.
We include links to the candidates' official web
sites, for those candidates who have web sites. We also include financial information from the
Washington Public Disclosure Commission, which regulates elections in
6. What kinds of ratings and endorsements are
included at this site?
We collect ratings and endorsements from a
number of diverse sources, including newspapers, bar associations and
other legal groups, and other organizations. Our goal is to provide
voters with a broad range of perspectives. We especially look for
organizations that evaluate candidates through the uniform and impartial
use of established and published criteria. We also include more
ideologically-driven organizations, however: Many voters find it helpful
to know which organizations are supporting which candidates.
Check our Ratings and
Endorsements pages for further information about the differences
among the types of ratings and endorsements included, and for the
note that votingforjudges.org does not support or endorse
any candidates; its goal is to compile information for voters.
7. Where can I find Washington appellate court
The Supreme Court receives over 1,000 filings each year; of these, it hears
arguments and issues decisions in about 130 cases each year. All decisions are
For recent decisions, visit the
Administrative Office of
the Courts. For all older decisions, visit either
The same sites have Washington Court of Appeals decisions.
8. How can I monitor the work of Washington's
We are very lucky to live in a state where access is so simple!
You can sign up with the
Administrative Office of the Courts to receive an email notification
whenever new decisions are issued. Your notice should normally arrive
within 30 minutes of a Supreme Court opinion's filing. (Under current
practice, the Supreme Court generally releases its decisions on Thursday
TVW offers full coverage of the Washington Supreme Court's oral
arguments. You can watch these arguments through many cable providers;
the arguments are also archived and available via streaming media at
9. I'm a candidate. Can I provide profile
VotingforJudges includes candidate biographical information and
candidate statements in the format accepted by the Secretary of State
for the Judicial Voters' Pamphlet. Once this pamphlet becomes available,
we reprint each candidate's information here, on the candidate's page.
Candidates who want their Voters' Pamphlet information made available
here before the publication of the Voters' Pamphlet can
submit their materials directly to us.
10. Who created, and who maintains and updates,
Creating an informational voter web site dedicated to Washington
Judicial Elections was the idea of the Judicial Selection Coalition, a
group of Washington state and county bar associations and other groups.
John Ruhl, 2006-07 President of the King County Bar Association, and
Charlie Wiggins, former Court of Appeals judge and Bainbridge Island
appellate attorney, led the effort to create the project that became VotingforJudges.org.
In 2006, the Judicial Selection Coalition retained Paul Fjelstad, an
attorney in Kitsap County, to design and create this site. Paul
established the Votingforjudges.org domain and web site, and he
continues to do all the editing of the site. You can write
to Paul at
The site is sponsored and endorsed by many organizations.
It has been praised by other media, and it has been recognized with two
national awards: the American Bar Association's
Silver Gavel Award for Media and the Arts (recognizing
"communications media that have been exemplary in helping to foster the
American public's understanding of the law and the legal system") and an
award from the
Foundation for Improvement of Justice (recognizing "innovative and
effective works and/or programs whose efforts have made positive
influential differences in the United States criminal and civil judicial