In Washington, full-time judges are elected by the voters. When a vacancy occurs mid-term, the executive branch appoints a judge, who must run for election to keep the position.
Voting for judges is notoriously difficult because judicial candidates are non-partisan and cannot tell voters how they will decide issues. People often ask, “are you democrat or republican?” The Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judicial candidates from contributing to, participating in, or publicly identifying themselves as a member of a political party. CJC 4.1(A). As the comments to the Code indicate:
- Even when subject to public election, a judge plays a role different from that of a legislator or executive branch official. Rather than making decisions based upon the expressed views or preferences of the electorate, a judge makes decisions based upon the law and the facts of every case. Therefore, in furtherance of this interest, judges and judicial candidates must, to the greatest extent possible, be free and appear to be free from political influence and political pressure. CJC 4.1, cmt.1.
Unlike other politicians, judicial candidates cannot tell voters how they will decide an issue in the future. CJC 4.1(A)(11-12). Instead, judges are required to be impartial and decide issues based upon the law as it exists, not on a judge’s personal preferences. For this reason, a judicial candidate’s personal views should be irrelevant. As Justice Scalia once noted, “The judge who always likes the results he reaches is a bad judge.”