State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders found himself with a slim lead over challenger Charlie Wiggins on Tuesday night in a bid for a fourth term.
Sanders had a lead of 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent with about half the vote counted.
Justice Jim Johnson and Chief Justice Barbara Madsen were re-elected. They did not have general election opponents because they won more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary.
Sanders has come under fire recently for saying at a court meeting that racial bias plays no significant role in the criminal justice system. He said certain minority groups are “disproportionally represented in prison because they have a crime problem.”
“I’ve been under brutal personal attacks,” Sanders said Tuesday. “There’s been an effort to demean me, to misrepresent my views. This is not the kind of campaign I wanted to run.”
Wiggins, a Bainbridge Island attorney who briefly served as a state appeals court judge, was leading in King County, the state’s most populous. Sanders had big leads in Eastern Washington and more narrow leads in Snohomish and Pierce counties.
Blacks make up 4 percent of the state’s population and nearly 20 percent of its prisoners, and studies around the country have linked such disproportionate numbers to drug enforcement policies, poverty and racial biases throughout society.
“It’s a big issue that has arisen at the last minute, and it throws a light on a pattern of statements by Justice Sanders that are not well-considered,” Wiggins said Tuesday.
Sanders said he has nothing to apologize for and that he’s proud of his record standing up for the state Constitution and individual liberties even when it’s unpopular – a philosophy that has made him a frequent dissenter on the court. Wiggins argued that the frequency of Sanders’ dissents suggests he’s outside the judicial mainstream. He points to cases where Sanders stood alone in writing in 2003 that the act of indecent exposure isn’t a crime against a person.