By the end of today, Richard Sanders will likely have a pretty good idea about whether he will remain a state Supreme Court justice. If his reelection bid fails, it may be due in part to controversy caused by the justice's recent remarks on race, a controversy largely fomented by the Seattle Times. Yet Sanders insists that the Times attributed things to him that he never said.
Sanders calls that characterization of his comments "outrageous...I never said why people commit crimes. I said I think people are in prison because they commit crimes."
To be exact, he said African Americans were in prison--to a disproportionate degree--because they committed crimes. He says he was reacting to a statement by a court staffer who suggested that racism was the reason for the disproportionality.
This may seem like a minor distinction, but it isn't. Even Sanders' critic Jerry Large, another Times columnist, seems to allow Sanders' point when he says in a recent column: "I would have amended the judges' remarks on crime by saying that sometimes circumstances increase the rates of certain crimes."
And on this, Sanders says he does not disagree. "I don't think people are more likely to commit crime because of race. I think they are more likely to commit crime because their support system has broken down." He says he learned this in part by visiting an African American three-striker in prison--someone who was sent to jail for life because he robbed an espresso stand with a finger in his pocket. Sanders felt the sentence was unfairly harsh, and said so in a dissenting court opinion.
That opinion, and a host of others, was cited by civil rights attorney Lem Howell in an op-ed sticking up for Sanders, whom the attorney said "has done more to defend the rights of the accused regardless of race than any of his colleagues."
Sanders says he doesn't know how any of this will play out in today's election. But he says he has concluded that Barack Obama was wrong when he said we need to talk about race. "We can't talk about race." People who state "a simple truth," he says, get penalized.