Tuesday, August 3, 2010 — JUSTICE Jim Johnson deserves a second six-year term on the Washington Supreme Court. He has been a strong voice for open government and the people's rights as citizens and voters.
Further, Johnson had several decades of appellate legal experience, including cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, before he went on the Washington Supreme Court. His opponent, Tacoma attorney Stan Rumbaugh, has relatively little experience in high-court cases.
Johnson came on the court as an expert in elections law, and has been the court's strongest defender of the people's rights of initiative and referendum. He wrote a majority decision that protects most initiatives from legal challenges until after the voters have spoken.
He is strong on open government. In one case, Sound Transit had a public meeting at which it voted to condemn a family's property. They did not know about the meeting. Sound Transit had posted a vague notice on the Internet, then argued in court that the owners should have seen it. Most of Johnson's colleagues on the court bought that excuse, but Johnson did not, and afterward the Legislature backed him up.
Johnson is a strong supporter of free speech. In a nationally recognized case that threatened First Amendment rights, he declined to apply campaign-finance rules to limit the speech of Seattle radio talk-show host John Carlson.
In the "sinking ship garage" case, the Seattle Monorail Project condemned an entire property that it needed only part of, planning to put the other part in the hands of private developers. The court's majority said that was fine; Johnson said it violated the owners' constitutional rights.
This page has not always agreed with Johnson. When gay couples challenged the state's marriage law, we were for them and the majority of the court was not. Johnson argued that it was not the court's business to change the traditional definition of marriage.
He is a top-notch justice and is far more qualified to be on the Washington Supreme Court than his opponent. He deserves re-election.
Thursday, August 5, 2010 — JUSTICE Richard Sanders should be re-elected to the Washington Supreme Court. The court's most fundamental job is to push back against the other two branches of government — the executive and the legislative — when they step on the rights of the people. No member of the court does that more consistently, and with greater gusto, than Sanders.
It takes a certain ego to do this, and ego may have other effects. Sanders can be cavalier about the rules of his trade. A judicial panel said he violated the appearance of fairness (but not fairness itself) in a visit to prisoners at McNeil Island in 2003.
Clearly he spoke injudiciously in 2008, when he stood up in an audience and called U.S. attorney general Michael Mukasey a "tyrant" to his face. This page hammered him in 2009 for ruling in a public-records case that could have affected a case of his own by increasing the award to his lawyer.
We do not take back our criticism. People who think these are the most important things can vote for Sanders' leading opponent, attorney Charlie Wiggins, who is fully qualified to be on the court.
We are staying with Sanders because we so often relish his strong and well-reasoned opinions. Begin with open government — the scope of the state's public-disclosure laws. Access to documents for everything is something we in the newspaper business champion. In protecting that right, Sanders is as solid as a mountain — and many of his colleagues are not.
On freedom of the press and of speech, Sanders is equally solid. On religious freedom, the same. On the rights of property owners, the same. Gun rights, the same. The rights of the accused, the same. The people's rights of initiative and referendum, the same.
Sanders does not always push back against government. He did not vote to invalidate state government's ban of gay marriage. But of nine justices, Sanders is more often the one standing up and yelling "No" at some rotten thing a political agency is doing to someone.
Wiggins would do this some of the time. Sanders specializes in it — and the people need him on the Washington Supreme Court.
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