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Originally published Friday, October 29, 2010 at 2:51 PM

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Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist

Pulling the Justice Sanders endorsement: You be the judge

The Seattle Times editorial board withdrew its endorsement of state Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders because his comments about African Americans being incarcerated butted up against The Times' belief in diversity and inclusion.

Times editorial page editor

Endorsing candidates is not an exact science. The contestants are too varied, the tidal movements of elections too constant to rely on a set method.

The editorial board of The Seattle Times, like those across the nation, does have some established procedures and core beliefs that inform our decisions. It was a challenge to our core beliefs that forced us to rescind our endorsement of state Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders and suggest that voters go with his opponent, Charlie Wiggins.

Rescinding an endorsement is not something we take lightly. I cannot remember a time that The Times has done so. We have changed our minds from the primary to the general, but have not in recent memory taken away an endorsement.

Sanders' statements earlier this month about African Americans were so off base, so uninformed, that we could no longer stand by him. Sadly, Justice Jim Johnson agreed with Sanders.

The Times did endorse Johnson in the primary. We did not have a discussion about him for the general election because Johnson received more than 50 percent of the primary vote, which in judicial races is enough to win the race.

Equating race to incarceration rates is a stunning statement from a judge. Especially a judge trying to retain his seat on the state's highest bench.

African Americans make up 4 percent of Washington's population and 20 percent of the state's prison population. The evidence is overwhelming that inequalities in the justice system and socioeconomic forces play a far greater role in deciding who is incarcerated than skin color.

Sanders' ignorance was only reinforced by stubbornly backing his comments, which were made at a meeting about fairness in the courts. Think about that for a minute. At a meeting about judicial equality, two of our state Supreme Court justices claimed that African Americans are overrepresented in prisons because of their skin color. That is not just shocking. It is a tragedy and an example of how far we have yet to travel.

Sanders' supporters are up in arms calling this an "October surprise." Yes, it is and entirely self-inflicted. But so what? This is what happens when judges are elected.

Sanders' friends are not helping matters. An e-mail sent by Friends of Justice Richard Sanders asking for donations to fight the so-called politically correct, reiterates Sanders' faulty assertions:

"As you may know, The Seattle Times ran a front-page article accusing Richard of racism because he said in a meeting about prison populations that blacks commit more crimes than whites, disproportionate to their population. It's a simple truth and everyone, African American or white, knows that it is true. But it is politically incorrect to say so."

The story on the front page of The Times did not accuse Sanders of being a racist. It was a news story that explained what happened at the meeting where the comments were made. Our editorial withdrawing our endorsement did not claim racism. To believe we changed our minds about Sanders because of some notion of political correctness is also wrong. This goes beyond being politically correct.

What Sanders and Johnson said seriously brings into question their ability to hear cases that involve people of color. That assertion has nothing to do with being politically correct and everything to do with having a Supreme Court that can act in the best interest of all Washington residents, including African Americans.

This page stood by Sanders through a number of gaffes that included him ruling on a case in which he had a personal conflict. His claim that dark skin means a person is more likely to be a criminal was too much.

One of our guiding missions at The Times is to promote, encourage and celebrate diversity. We could not stand by a candidate who insults that value and belief.

Ryan Blethen's column appears on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: rblethen@seattletimes.com

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