Charlie Wiggins
  • Charlie Wiggins
In a telephone interview today, former appeals court judge Charlie Wiggins, who's running against Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders this fall, said Justice Sanders' recent comments on race are "amazing" and "naïve."

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“I think that it shows a lack of willingness to look at things in a complex way, or complex facts in an open or fair-minded way," Wiggins told me. "And a reliance on kind of jumping to conclusions.”

Wiggins said the fact that African Americans represent only four percent of Washington State's general population, but 20 percent of its prison population, cannot be blamed solely on some kind of inherent African American "crime problem," as Justice Sanders put it in his recent remarks.

“I think that there are enough statistics to show that you cannot simplistically lay this disproportion off to a matter of saying that here’s an entire community that is involved in crime," Wiggins said. He continued:

I just think that is a naïve way of looking at things, and I think the statistics bear it out. What I would suggest it calls for is really a continued focus on this question: Why is it that we have minority groups—and not just African Americans—overrepresented in charges, arrests, sentencing, and prison? Why is that? And what is the court’s appropriate response to that?

Ironically, Wiggins said, exploring those questions was exactly the point of the conversation in which Justice Sanders reportedly made his incendiary comments—a conversation Washington's chief justice, Barbara Madsen, felt she had to halt because it was becoming unproductive.

The reported conversation was so alarming that the Seattle Times has rescinded its earlier endorsement of Justice Sanders and is now backing Wiggins. "I think it was just one straw that broke the camel’s back for the Times," Wiggins told me. "Even their earlier endorsement in the primary was somewhat guarded and talked about some of the downsides of Justice Sanders, and I think this was just one more thing.”

Does he think Justice Sanders' comments were racist? Wiggins replied:

I really can’t say that. I can’t look into Richard Sanders’ heart and say that he’s a racist. I can’t say that.

However, he does agree with James Kelly of the Seattle Urban League that this warrants more serious exploration, whether through a special commission or more studies. Putting a new spin on a familiar phrase, Wiggins said:

Eternal vigilance is the price of impartial justice, and I think we need to look at this. You know, President Obama said during the campaign that it was time for a serious discussion on race issues, to try to address these things forthrightly and honestly. I agreed with that at the time, and I think this is just one more illustration of the fact that we need to continue working on it.

Justice Richard Sanders
  • Washington State Supreme Court
  • Justice Richard Sanders
As for the other bit of news about Justice Sanders this fall, Wiggins said it was good that The Stranger compared Justice Sanders' personal life (two divorces, two simultaneous girlfriends this election season) to the opinion he signed upholding this state's ban on same-sex marriage (the opinion argued, among other things, that straight couples are inherently better at long-term, stable, monogamous relationships, and therefore should be privileged over gay couples when it comes to marriage rights).

“I thought you did a very good job," Wiggins said, "of tying his personal life to the opinion in the Andersen case—and to the hypocrisy, or at least irony."

He continued:

I think it should make everyone sit up and think about, again, rather unexamined opinions and biases that, when you hold them up to the light of the facts, can’t really be the basis for decision-making. But that’s a very long and convoluted way of saying I think you did a good job.

(Thanks.) But: Will either of these things sway the voters?

"I think it’s really up to the voters as to the importance that they place on Sanders’ personal conduct," Wiggins told me. "But as I’ve said over and over on the campaign trail, I think the most important thing we look at in these judicial elections is the character of the candidates.”

He also noted that at recent forums, Justice Sanders' remarks on race have come up repeatedly, and people have been "shocked" by his statements.

“I’m feeling good about where we are," Wiggins said, looking toward election day. "I think we’ve run a responsible campaign, and an energetic and a focused campaign. We’ve tried to stay on the message of integrity, impartiality, and independence. And I think it’s resonating.