Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why Do You Want to Be a Judge?

Someone asked me this question last week. I don't think I'd been asked before possibly because most people I've been talking to are judges or lawyers and for them the answer is self-evident. But it's a good question and one I expect that I will be asked by voters many times in the next few months. The short answer is: I want to be an instrument of justice.

The longer answer is: I have had personal experience of discriminatory laws and unjust court decisions. I grew up in a neighborhood in Sacramento that was one of the few places in the county where my Mexican immigrant grandparents could buy property because of restrictive covenants that prohibited homeowners from selling to blacks or Mexicans. My mother told me how she and her sisters were turned away from a public swimming pool because they were Mexican and how my uncle David was punished at school for speaking Spanish. I myself attended segregated schools -- segregated in fact, if not in law -- until I was in middle school.

I also remember that morning in 1986 when I sat in my office at the law firm I worked at and read the Supreme Court's decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, the case that said that states had a right to criminalize homosexual conduct because "there is no constitutional right to homosexual sodomy." As I read those words I felt a rage I have rarely ever felt because here was the highest court in the land -- whose justices had sworn the same oath as me to protect and defend the constitution -- branding me a second-class citizen in the most contemptuous language I'd ever read in a legal opinion.

One of the lessons I've drawn from these experiences is that justice depends not only on the laws but on who is interpreting and applying the law. I want to be a judge because equality before the law isn't just a legal principle to me, it is my entire reason for being a lawyer. I will the kind of judge who treats everyone with respect, who provides to everyone a full and fair hearing, and who strives to reach a just result. I will be the kind of judge that our system depends upon: rigorously honest, impartial and independent. and I will be that kind of judge because of my experience. In my court, there will no room for stereotypes, biases or sloppy thinking. Mine will be a court of justice.

No comments:

Post a Comment