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Thursday, September 30, 2004 - Page updated at 12:16 A.M.
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Each is qualified. Jim Johnson, a private attorney, has argued nearly 100 appellate cases, many of them in his former position with the state attorney general. In debates over constitutional law, his experience is deeper than Becker's. He has not, however, been a judge. Becker has. For 10 years, Becker has been on the Washington Court of Appeals, doing the same kind of work Supreme Court justices do. She was also a private attorney for a decade and a state legislator for eight years, which gives her a broad background in the law.
The job they seek is nonpartisan, but it is easy to label them. Becker served as a Democratic legislator and is backed by Washington Conservation Voters and the Washington State Labor Council. Johnson worked under Attorney General Slade Gorton, and is backed by the Association of Washington Business and the Building Industry Association of Washington.
Johnson is a strict constructionist, and would be more likely than Becker to invoke the Constitution to strike down a law. Becker, the former legislator, says, "One of the rules we follow is, you don't reach for the Constitution right off the bat." She stresses that the court's decisions have to be practical, so that people can live with them.
Despite this difference, Johnson and Becker both support the U.S. Supreme Court's Blakely decision. There, the court said that in sentencing a felon, a judge could not add three years for cruelty if the cruelty had not been proven to a jury. "The right of trial by jury is fundamental," Becker said. "Those might sound like 'liberal' sentiments, but they are really also conservative."
We have reviewed some of Becker's rulings, and they do not strike us as skewed heavily to the left or right. When asked to name the justice on the U.S. Supreme Court she admires most, she cited Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is famous for her centrism.
In representing clients as diverse as initiator Tim Eyman and the state Grange, Johnson has been an advocate. His manner is of an advocate: quick, forceful, with a love of intellectual combat.
Becker is quieter, more contemplative, more likely to point out something the speaker was not thinking of. This happened when discussing a case in which we agreed with Johnson. "It's important not to overreact because you lost," she said, explaining the other side of the issue.
It sounded very much like a judge.
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