In a close race, Sanders for State Supreme Court

September 26, 2012 

Voters get to choose between two good -- and somewhat similar -- candidates for the State Supreme Court race between Sheryl Gordon McCloud and Richard Sanders.

While they both scored high marks with us, we tip the scale slightly in favor of Sanders.

Both candidates support the Constitution, even when that means protecting the rights of unpopular people.

We respect that.

Two main differences between the candidates are experience on the bench and general demeanor. McCloud has argued in front of the Supreme Court many times, but has no judicial experience.

In most years, we wouldn't hold that against her. When Sanders was first elected to the court, he didn't have any experience either.

For clarification, neither candidate is an incumbent.

Sanders served 15 years on the Supreme Court before he was voted out in 2010.

This seat is open because of Justice Tom Chambers' retirement.

Two years ago, Sanders was defeated, likely because of a statement he made about race and crime that spurred the Seattle Times to rescind its previously issued recommendation.

We have thoroughly considered that event and do not think Sanders is racist. We see no reason to hold that one comment against him.

As for temperament, however, you don't have to be in the same room with either of them for very long to get a feel for their bedside manner.

Our counterparts at the Spokane Spokesman-Review have endorsed McCloud with this statement, "But we prefer McCloud for her understanding of the proper role of the court, and the knowledge, temperament and independence she can bring to its deliberations."

We echo their reasoning but stop short of agreeing with their conclusion.

McCloud does have clear understanding of the proper role of the court and would bring knowledge, temperament and independence to the bench, but so would Sanders.

It's just that his temperament can be a bit more abrasive at times.

He has a track record of being an independent thinker, although he sided with the majority in about 70 percent of his decisions.

Our recommendation is based largely on which candidate can best contribute to the current court, given its makeup.

The court is comprised of nine justices. Each serves a six-year term with elections staggered every two years to allow some continuity on the bench.

Three of these seats were up for election this year. Two of the races were decided in the primary. Justice Steven Gonzales won his seat, but his incumbency only started with an appointment in January of this year.

Other newly seated judges include: Justice Charles Wiggins, elected in 2010; Justice Barbara Madsen, on the court since 2009; and Justice Debra Stephens, appointed to the court in 2008.

In short, these four judges (almost half the court) have a total of 10 years on the state's top court, compared with Sanders' 15 years of experience.

While we would be satisfied to see either candidate don the black robe, we rule in favor of institutional knowledge in this case.

The Tri-City Herald editorial recommends Richard Sanders for Washington State Supreme Court.

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