NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, October 23rd, 2020

Raquel Montoya-Lewis and G. Helen Whitener ahead for Supreme Court; most voters unsure

The Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States may be the nation’s high­est pro­file and best known court of law (and it’s been in the news a lot late­ly!), but it’s hard­ly the only Supreme Court in the land. That’s because most states have opt­ed to estab­lish their own Supreme Courts, fol­low­ing the judi­cial struc­ture set forth in the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Unit­ed States back in the 1790s.

Wash­ing­ton is one of those states. Its Supreme Court even has an iden­ti­cal num­ber of jus­tices as that of the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States (SCOTUS): nine. How­ev­er, unlike SCOTUS, jus­tices on the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court are pop­u­lar­ly elect­ed for six year terms and must retire at the age of seventy-five.

If a jus­tice dies or retires before com­plet­ing a term, the vacan­cy is filled by guber­na­to­r­i­al appoint­ment. Because jus­tices at the state lev­el are pop­u­lar­ly elect­ed (a jus­tice must face the vot­ers at the next gen­er­al elec­tion to retain their seat), the State Sen­ate has no role in con­firm­ing justices.

This year, two appoint­ed jus­tices are seek­ing to be retained by the vot­ers, while anoth­er two are seek­ing reelec­tion (and have already achieved reelec­tion due to being unop­posed). The appoint­ed jus­tices are Raquel Mon­toya-Lewis, Wash­ing­ton’s first Native Amer­i­can jus­tice, and G. Helen Whiten­er, Wash­ing­ton’s first black woman and refugee jus­tice. Both are con­sid­ered excep­tion­al­ly well qual­i­fied by the legal com­mu­ni­ty, but are unknown to most Washingtonians.

Last May, in our post Fil­ing Week statewide sur­vey, we asked vot­ers about their Supreme Court pref­er­ences. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, vast major­i­ty of vot­ers that our poll­ster con­nect­ed with had no opin­ion with respect to either race, though Mon­toya-Lewis and Whiten­er did each receive plu­ral­i­ty sup­port.

Our lat­est poll, which was in the field last week for two days, finds that more Wash­ing­to­ni­ans have decid­ed who they’re vot­ing for… and Mon­toya-Lewis and Whiten­er remain ahead of their more con­ser­v­a­tive opponents.

21% of sur­vey par­tic­i­pants said Mon­toya-Lewis was their choice for Posi­tion #3, while 17% of par­tic­i­pants said chal­lenger David Lar­son was their choice.

A large major­i­ty of 62% said they were not sure.

For Posi­tion #6, 22% of sur­vey par­tic­i­pants said G. Helen Whiten­er was their choice, while 12% said Richard S. Serns was their choice.

66% said they were not sure.

Those may sound like very high “not sure” num­bers. And they are.

But they’re not as big as what we saw ear­li­er this year.

In the spring, none of the can­di­dates reg­is­tered above 15% in our polling, with about eight in ten respon­dents say­ing they were not sure in each race.

Raquel Mon­toya-Lewis has gone from 14% to 21%, a sev­en point jump, while G. Helen Whiten­er has gone from 13% to 22%, a nine point jump. David Lar­son and Richard S. Serns have dou­bled their sup­port from the sin­gle dig­its to the teens, with Lar­son going from 8% to 17% and Serns from 6% to 12%.

Here are the num­bers again and the exact ques­tions we asked:

QUESTION: The 2020 can­di­dates for the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court Posi­tion #3 are David Lar­son and Raquel Mon­toya-Lewis. Who are you vot­ing for?

ANSWERS:

  • David Lar­son: 17%
  • Raquel Mon­toya-Lewis: 21%
  • Not sure: 62%

And for Posi­tion #6:

QUESTION: The 2020 can­di­dates for the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court Posi­tion #6 are G. Helen Whiten­er and Richard S. Serns. Who are you vot­ing for?

ANSWERS:

  • G. Helen Whiten­er: 22%
  • Richard S. Serns: 12%
  • Not sure: 66%

Our sur­vey of six hun­dred and ten like­ly 2020 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from Wednes­day, Octo­ber 14th through Thurs­day, Octo­ber 15th.

It uti­lizes a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy, with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines and text mes­sage answers from cell phone only respondents.

The poll was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 4.0% at the 95% con­fi­dence level.

Due to being incum­bents, Mon­toya-Lewis and Whiten­er ought to ben­e­fit more from word-of-mouth adver­tis­ing and news­pa­per endorse­ments than their oppo­nents, just like Jus­tice Steven Gon­za­lez did two years ago.

Whiten­er has been rat­ed excep­tion­al­ly well qual­i­fied by nine bar asso­ci­a­tions to date. Serns has been rat­ed as not qual­i­fied by the King Coun­ty Bar Asso­ci­a­tion; he has no oth­er rat­ings. Mon­toya-Lewis is rat­ed excep­tion­al­ly well qual­i­fied by eight bar asso­ci­a­tions and well qual­i­fied by a ninth. Lar­son is rat­ed qual­i­fied by the King Coun­ty Bar Asso­ci­a­tion; we are unaware of any oth­er ratings.

Both Whiten­er and Mon­toya-Lewis have swept the endorse­ments of the major news­pa­pers that have endorsed for the Supreme Court.

“The appoint­ments of Whiten­er and Mon­toya-Lewis arguably have afford­ed the state the most diverse state supreme court in the nation, one that bet­ter rep­re­sents the cul­tur­al make­up of the state, itself. Vot­ers should retain Whiten­er [and Mon­toya-Lewis] on the court and secure that lega­cy for the state,” The Her­ald of Everett opined on Octo­ber 21st.

“[Gov­er­nor Inslee] made his­to­ry when he appoint­ed the first Native Amer­i­can, and then the first Black woman, to the state’s high­est court. Now that these incred­i­ble jus­tices are there, we rec­om­mend they stay. That’s why Raquel Mon­toya-Lewis and Helen Whiten­er are our choic­es for the state Supreme Court,” the Yaki­ma Her­ald-Repub­lic edi­to­ri­al­ized on Octo­ber 16th.

For many vot­ers, a tried and true method of dis­cern­ing who to vote for in low-pro­file judi­cial races is to ask some­one who has been admit­ted to the bar, or has a con­nec­tion to the legal com­mu­ni­ty. With their endorse­ments, excel­lent bar rat­ings, cam­paign invest­ments, and slight polling leads. Mon­toya-Lewis and Whiten­er have to be con­sid­ered the favorites in their respec­tive races.

But with so many vot­ers not sure, those out­comes are not a given.

You can do your part to ensure that peo­ple you know cast an informed vote in judi­cial races by read­ing up on the can­di­dates and shar­ing what you learn with your fam­i­ly and friends so they can ben­e­fit from your research.

Vot­ing in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is cur­rent­ly in progress and is set to con­clude on Novem­ber 3rd, 2020 at 8 PM Pacif­ic in Wash­ing­ton State.

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