Oregon Needs Judicial Diversity

Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced the appointment of the state’s newest Oregon Supreme Court Justice. If you are governor, that’s what you get to do – appoint judges. No checks, no balances, it’s your decision and your decision alone. Eventually the appointee has to face the electorate but by that time that appointee gets to have the coveted “Incumbent” behind his or her name on the ballot. And history has demonstrated that few “Incumbents” are ever defeated.

And if you are a judicial appointee of a Democrat governor – Oregon’s had one of those for the past twenty years – there is an “understanding” that when you are tired of being a judge, you resign before your term is over. That way, the governor gets to appoint another judge or justice and the cycle begins all over again. (After all we can’t trust the electorate to make such a critical decision.) It is a rarity that appellate judges ever serve out their terms and thus give the electorate a clean shot at determining who succeeds them on the courts.
Had the founders of the constitution envisioned this abusive practice, most assuredly they would have written some form of additional checks and balances into the judicial selection process.

But, be that as it may, this is what governors get to do. But at the very least, they ought to be honest in their statements accompanying the announcement of these judicial appointments. Here’s what Kulongoski had to say – straight from his press release:

“. . . It is important to have judges of varied backgrounds and experiences. We need to continue to strive to diversify both the bar and the bench in Oregon so they better reflect the population they serve.”

That’s a noble thought. Too bad the governor has yet to follow through on it. Of the seventeen current appellate judges, guess how many are from the narrow corridor stretching from Portland to Eugene? Twelve? Thirteen? Wrong. Sixteen of seventeen. And this new appointment continues that string Portland/Eugene appointments.

Apparently during the selection of these appellate judges, only one qualified person could be found from Medford, Klamath Falls, Bend, Pendleton, Grants Pass, Roseburg, the Coastal area, Eastern Oregon, small town USA, or any place other than Portland, Salem or Eugene. So why doesn’t the governor just be honest about it and admit that Portland-Eugene corridor is the Democrat’s stronghold. I mean, he can chose anyone he wants so why not be honest about it.

But then again, Kulongoski has demonstrated that there is a wide gulf between what he says and what he does. Let’s not forget that Kulongoski announced during his first gubernatorial campaign that Oregon didn’t need a tax increase – and then he turned around and supported the $880 million tax increase referred to voters under Measure 28. It lost by an overwhelming vote of 60-40 percent. Kulongoski then announced that he had heard the voters and that he would not ask voters to increase taxes during the upcoming session. Before the ink had dried on that pronouncement, Kulongoski and the Democrat leadership proposed, passed and signed a $1.2 billion dollar tax increase. That too was rejected by voters under Measure 30. Thereafter, having declared that Oregon has to learn to “live within its means” he has proposed a sales tax, an increase in the corporate tax, repeal of the kicker, and a tax on insurance premiums. So much for living within your means.

Apparently, with Ted, it’s not what you do; it’s what you say. And in the case of his latest judicial appointment he is just as disingenuous as he is when he talks about taxes. What Kulongoski should have said, if he wanted to be honest about it, was, “Look, I’m a liberal Democrat. I only appoint liberal Democrats to the appellate courts. Most of Oregon’s liberal Democrats live in the Portland/Eugene corridor. Don’t expect anything different.”

In the end, it is this “tell-them-what-they-want to hear; do-what-you-want-anyway” attitude by politicians, that causes grassroots revolution. That is why 170,000 people from all across Oregon (not just the Portland/Eugene corridor) signed an initiative petition to ensure that there is diversity in the court. Measure 40 ensures that judges are elected (or appointed) from judicial districts representing cross-sections of the whole state. When politicians promised to fix the land use abuses and did not for thirty years, the people adopted Measure 37. When the politicians promised to fix the lax justice system and didn’t, the people adopted Measure 11. When the politicians promised to not raise taxes and then did anyway, the people rejected Measures 28 and 30. It looks like the people are going to have to get actual judicial diversity the same way – Measure 40.