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State Supreme Court race still close

SEATTLE – Justice Richard Sanders maintained a narrow lead in his bid for a fourth term on the state Supreme Court as more votes were counted Wednesday, but challenger Charlie Wiggins said he was encouraged by his performance in the state’s most populous county.

Sanders had 51 percent of the vote to 49 percent for Wiggins. About two-thirds of the statewide vote has been counted, but a significant portion of the uncounted ballots were in King County, where Wiggins was collecting nearly 57 percent.

“I’m pretty thrilled with what I’m seeing,” Wiggins said. “On the new votes in King County, I’ve got a nice jump in the percentage I’m getting – 60 percent of those. That’s the trend I really need to have.”

Sanders didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Sanders came under fire late in the campaign for insisting 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.”

A front-page story on the remarks appeared in the Seattle Times after ballots were mailed to voters and was followed by the newspaper’s decision to rescind its endorsement of him. 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.

Sanders said he stood by his remarks, that the uproar over his comments amounted to a personal attack, and that he’s proud of his record of upholding the state Constitution and protecting individual liberties. He and his supporters pointed out that he often sides with defendants in criminal cases.

Wiggins said Sanders’ comments fit into a pattern of ill-considered remarks – including the time Sanders shouted “tyrant!” at then U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey during a black tie dinner.