Transcending Politics

True justice transcends politics


A year ago we were in Wenatchee during the governor election trial. One of us was there fighting for Christine Gregoire and the other for Dino Rossi. We hardly agree on the time of day.

However, there is something fundamental about which we do agree.

Our country's system of justice should be not be driven by partisan politics. The rules of the law should apply equally to every citizen and those rules should be applied by judges who do not hold their office to help any particular party, person or special interest.

Every day, tens of thousands of people throughout the country walk into courthouses seeking justice. They bring with them their most personal, difficult and important issues and rely on complete strangers to resolve them. They do so because they have faith that honesty, integrity and the rule of law will govern. They do it because they trust that every person is entitled to and can receive justice.

They have a right to trust that the judge who hears their case will make a decision based upon the rules of law and not based upon the judge's politics or ideology.

Our system is not perfect. It never will be perfect. But we believe it is the best system of justice anywhere. It is still a primary reason that people from throughout the globe come to our shores, seeking a better life.

There is a growing politicization surrounding the selection of judges. It is a dangerous trend that is bad for the courts and bad for the people. If courts are viewed as just another political branch, people will lose trust. Justice and the rule of law must transcend the politics of the day, if our system of democracy is to endure.

Our elected leaders are not strangers to rough-and-tumble politics and the selection of federal judges for our region has had its share of professional chokeholds.

However, while other areas of the country have become deadlocked in selecting judges, Washington state has settled into a system that could serve as a model for the country.

About 10 years ago then-Sen. Slade Gorton, Sen. Patty Murray and the Clinton White House agreed to allow a bipartisan panel of citizens from Washington state to interview and recommend candidates to serve on the federal bench. The panel uses a merit selection process to vet applicants for all federal trial court openings in the state.

The committee interviews applicants and recommend up to three qualified candidates for any opening. To get on the list, a majority of the committee must agree.

Since then the selection of federal judges in this state has followed that model. Now, Rep. Doc Hastings, our delegation's senior Republican, has selected three panel members, with the other three selected together by Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell.

Neither the White House nor the senators are formally bound to the committee's recommended list but all have supported the process. In fact, the federal judges appointed from here over the past 10 years have all come through this process. This is one reason we have an outstanding federal bench here.

U.S. District Judges Ricardo Martinez, James Robarts, Robert Lasnik and Marsha Pechman of Seattle were selected through merit-based, bipartisan committees. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton of Tacoma went through a similar process, and a nominee for retiring Judge Franklin Burgess in Tacoma should come soon.

It is everyone's hope President Bush will nominate and the senators will support someone who is on the list recommended by the committee. If so, unlike nominees from other regions, confirmation should be swift.

Right now, we are honored to serve as co-chairs for a committee seeking a replacement for U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour. Each committee member is committed to a merit-based, nonpartisan process to recommend the most qualified individuals.

To get superior judges, however, we need superior candidates. If you know someone who should apply, we urge you to support them in doing so. Act now.

We need to continue the tradition of excellence in our courts. For information on application deadlines and requirements, please visit the Washington State Bar Association Web site,
Jenny A. Durkan is a Seattle attorney who served as counsel to the Gregoire campaign and the Washington State Democrats. J. Vander Stoep, a Chehalis attorney, was chief of staff for Sen. Slade Gorton.


  1. One thing that annoys me is the people who try to put in false politicization. One of the lines I'm starting to say, and it'd be worthy of a political Doggerel entry, if I did those: "An 'activist judge' is a judge who makes a ruling you don't like."

  2. I'd love to hear a Doggerel on this, BD. One of the main reasons I started reading Skeptic stuff was to understand how it applies to actual people; ie, Politics, and it's older cousin, religion.)

    Your working title made me think of that link, and is entirely appropriate.

    Go for it!


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