Washington state Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Sanders argues that his comments about race and criminality were misconstrued. Here he discusses what he said.
WHY did I lose this year’s election when in 1998 and 2004 I topped 63 percent?
The Seattle Times.
Based on my 47 percent vote in the primary against two opponents, I was headed to victory in the general, and would have won except that in The Times’ circulation area my support was greatly reduced.
Doesn’t The Times have the freedom of the press to say what it wants? Absolutely. In opinion after opinion, I have said exactly that. But in trials there are findings of fact as well as conclusions of law. The Times has garbled its facts.
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Oct. 22 the paper ran a front-page headline, “Two state Supreme Court justices stun some listeners with race comments.”
The article continued: “… they said African Americans are overrepresented in the prison population because they commit a disproportionate number of crimes.” Yes, I said that. No matter what we might wish, those facts are undeniable. But I didn’t say why this is so. I think circumstances explain a lot.
But the reporter allowed the impression that I believe African Americans are inclined to commit crimes because of their race. As if there is a criminality gene in African Americans! Of course I never said that and I don’t believe it.
My 60 seconds of comments came at the end of a 60-minute presentation by others. One staffer stated she thought our justice system was top-to-bottom racist. I asked her why she thought that. She said African Americans have 4 percent of the population but 20 percent of the prison population. I responded that this perhaps represents convictions for crimes committed rather than railroading innocent men to prison because of race. That was it.
I think the judiciary tries very hard to not let race be an issue — and I try harder than anyone else on our court. My record proves that.
I have argued — in dissent against the court majority — that when there is an African-American defendant, the prosecution must not dismiss the last African American juror unless they can state a race-neutral reason.
I have argued in dissent that our three-strikes law that sent a 27-year-old African American to prison for life without possibility of parole for stealing $300 from an espresso stand is unconstitutionally cruel punishment.
I spearheaded a new court rule that requires trial-court judges to appoint only experienced lawyers with reasonable caseloads to represent indigent criminal defendants, many of whom are African Americans.
I am constantly attacked because I stand up for the rights of the accused (many of whom are African Americans). It was not mere coincidence that prosecutors endorsed my opponent.
A week before the election, The Times editorial page withdrew its endorsement of me, reciting the comment I made about people being in prison because they commit crimes, stating I should have offered “more thoughtful, nuanced views about racial disparities … ” But in the context, there was no opportunity.
When I requested a chance to write an opinion piece explaining my views, I was told that op-eds from candidates were not published before the election. [The Times did publish an oped that defended Sanders’ record.]
On the Thursday before the election, a staff columnist said, “Apparently there is no bias in the system when the people deciding your fate assume from the get-go that you are inclined toward criminality … ” I never said that and I don’t believe it.
Another column, three days later stated I claimed, “African Americans are overrepresented in prisons because of their skin color.” What an outlandish misrepresentation of my views!
You, The Times, ran the guy out of the Temple of Justice who cares most deeply about the rights of every individual.
Justice Richard B. Sanders has been a member of the Washington Supreme Court since 1995.