On May 30, Zaida and I traveled to the rolling hills of the Palouse region in eastern Washington state for the 2012 Council of Leaders of the League of Women Voters of Washington. As hosts of Council, the League of Pullman pulled together both a panel discussion and a banquet with speakers that discussed the state of judicial diversity and independence in Washington.
The panel, attended by close to 120 members of the community, was co-sponsored by the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service and held on the campus of Washington State University. The panelists were Justice Steven Gonzalez of the Washington Supreme Court, Judge Laurel Siddoway of the Division III Court of Appeals, Judge Cameron Mitchell of the Superior Court of Benton-Franklin County, Judge Douglas Robinson of the District Court of Whitman County, and Professor James Gibson of Washington University in St. Louis. The program was moderated by Cornell Clayton, Director of the Foley Institute.
Professor Gibson kicked off the panel by sharing contemporary research on public attitudes toward the courts, which showed that different demographic groups have different views on the legitimacy of the judiciary that can be impacted by how diverse a given court is. Justice Gonzalez continued the panel with a chilling personal experience: his pollster reported that he would start three percentage points down in his coming re-election campaign against a generic candidate due only to his diverse surname. Judge Siddoway recounted the impact of gender diversity on the bench on cases that deal predominantly with women, while Judge Mitchell focused on the impact of racial diversity on the courts on the effectiveness of juvenile justice. Judge Robinson rounded out the group by speaking about the trend of seeing more diversity over time in the population that uses the courts in Washington. Panelists also participated in a wide-ranging question-and-answer session that touched on the importance of partisanship in identifying how a judge will rule, how to create a pipeline for diverse candidates, and the influence of elections versus appointment selection processes. In the evening, the banquet featured Justice Charles Wiggins of the Washington Supreme Court as keynote speaker.
Panelists from left to right: Professor James Gibson, Judge Cameron Mitchell, Justice Steven Gonzalez, Judge Laurel Siddoway, and Judge Douglas Robinson