This Tuesday is an election day.
The political signs have been up for months and I am sure that if I watched the morass of manure known as network television* without the benefit of pre-recording it, I would be assaulted with negative campaign ads from all of the elected officials with the exception of judges, who can’t really campaign. Instead, I rely on a combination of voter guides, campaign web sites and newspaper interviews to research the candidates. And I do most of my research at the last minute. There. I have said it. Every Tuesday after the first Monday of November during an election year, I resolve to keep better track of the candidates voting records so that when the next election season comes around, I know whether I can trust the incumbent or send them a pink slip. Instead, I go back to trying to keep up with homeschooling, outside activities for kids, church, housework, friends and other local affairs. Then, when election time comes up again, I resort to the equivalent of cramming for the test. This year, because of the sheer number of issues and candidates on the ballot, my husband and I are using the “divide and conquer” method of researching the the two pages of decisions that we have to make. I usually have no problems finding information on any of the candidates, except for one—judges. According to judges, they can’t state their views on any issue because it would affect their impartiality as a judge. So, I am asked to vote whether or not to retain a judge with basically no information provided other than to see how their colleagues view them, through Judicial Performance Reviews. This is where my frustration starts.
* I also confess that some of the shows on TV are pretty good, but "morass of manure" has alliterative qualities and, you must admit that most of the political TV ads closely resemble manure, at least in smell.
This year, the voter guide I use did claim to have a guide on judges. However, voter guides generally rely on the candidates replying to their surveys and, of the 56 judges on the Mesa ballot who were sent generic questionnaires regarding their judicial philosophy, only eight replied. Since this is a voter guide developed by a conservative group, one could assume that the other judges didn’t reply because they are the liberal judges who feel the need to legislate from the bench because most Democrats do not respond to their surveys. However, my mom taught me that when we assume things, we make, well you probably know that saying. One of the judges wrote a letter referencing a website that would allow me to see a record of decisions made. However, there was no good interface that would allow me to look at one judge’s history of decisions on that site. I would have to look up each individual case, read it, find out the judge’s decision and why they made it for the last year to develop an idea of whether they are judging strictly by the strictly literal interpretation of the law or by the law as they wish it had been written. I also started looking at the Judicial Performance Reports for the judges. The problem is that only 20% of the attorneys that were surveyed actually sent in results, which might skew reports one way or other. What if a bunch of liberal attorneys want to give a conservative judge a bad review and make sure to send in their surveys or conservative attorneys try to "blacklist" a liberal judge through those surveys? The one place that didn’t seem to have much information about judges was the local newspaper, which is EXACTLY the place that, theoretically, should be providing the information. But that is another day's rant.
With the problems that have surfaced with judicial activism over the last few years, shouldn’t we be provided information about how many of a judge’s decisions have been overturned in appeals, and whether or not they believe in a literal interpretation of the law vs. a revisionist interpretation? Fortunately, my homeschooling cohorts have come to my aid and provided the web address of an anonymous blog which rates the judges based on whether they are very conservative, moderately conservative, moderately liberal or very liberal. The blog is anonymous because the state conduct guidelines would allow a lawyer to be debarred for openly criticizing a judge or other attorney, though siting a judge as "liberal", "moderate" or "conservative" is hardly being critical. Apparently, the anonymous blogger is a lawyer and wants to continue to practice law. Without knowing this person very well, except by reading other blogs published on the site and other sites read by the blogger, I am basing my decisions primarily on the blog’s recommendations because I have very little other information and because the blogger is not afraid to highlight when people disagree with their assessment of the judge's political leanings, which I respect very much.
So I go with a bit of knowledge I glean from my sources and with help from my hubby doing the research to vote on Tuesday. After having spent the last year or so studying the American Revolution with my kids and reading about the months that our Founding Fathers spent designing a government that passed power from one person to the next peaceably with input from the governed through the election process, I have a renewed passion for voting and for making sure I am making reasonably informed choices. I also urge you to exercise the freedoms that our forefather's fought to give us, the freedoms that women and emancipated slaves fought to achieve, the freedoms that people living under dictators in other countries can only dream of having: the freedom to have a voice in our government and to hold government accountable. Whether you agree with me politically or not, please vote this Tuesday.