Thoughts on How to Pick Your Local Judge

This is a short article reflecting on how I think about local elections. Specifically, it is my attempt to take my Christian worldview and translate that into a guide for deciding which local politicians I will support. The point of this is to explain that the decision-making process is different for local elections than it would be for a local judgenational election.

I decided to write this because I have two friends running for local office: David Johnson is running for district judge in Jacksonville and Maumelle, and John Tidwell is running for 202nd district judge in my hometown of Texarkana, Texas. Both of these men have earned my respect. Both of them are smart. Both of them are good lawyers. Both of them treat people well. Both of them are good fathers. Both of them are good examples for me to emulate as a young lawyer. They’d both make good neighbors. I can’t vote for John because I live in Arkansas, but I would if I could. I will be voting for David, and I would vote for him no matter who he was running against.

Here’s the thing, really the point of this whole piece: I don’t agree with either of them on most political issues. If I engaged either one of them in a political discussion, we would immediately disagree. I’m not sure that I would vote for either of them for President. But they will both make outstanding judges.

There is so much that is troubling about politics. Like many people, I feel lost. I feel forced to figure out what the least evil option would be in a system that was (apparently) designed to produce terrible options.

This national and statewide election tragedy affects the local election situation. That is, we get so polarized by the candidates and by the media that we adopt the same mentality with local elections—perhaps the elections that affect us the most. The habits and thought patterns that we develop in trying to choose a president or governor follow us when we’re choosing our mayor and local judge. Or dogcatcher (Is that really a thing?).

The spillover to local elections is unfortunate. That is, the habits built for national elections are poorly suited for local ones. I think that we need to have different standards for each type of office. Our voting preferences should track with the office we’re selecting. Put another way: The person that you vote for when selecting a President need not be a good judge or dogcatcher, and vice versa. And there have been many fine dogcatchers who would not have been a good president.

Neither David nor John will ever make a policy decision about abortion or climate change or immigration or gay marriage. So it doesn’t matter much what he thinks about those issues. Those issues do matter, but they don’t matter for a local judge. Instead, they’ll be making decisions about foreclosures, child custody, how to sentence a criminal, whether a witness is telling the truth, etc.

What kind of person do you want making those decisions? You want integrity. You want wisdom. You want someone who is decisive. You want someone who is smart. You want someone who is discerning. You want someone who will show up to work on time every single day.

As a Christian, I think there is something to be taken from Deuteronomy Chapter 16 on the role of a local judge:

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

There is certainly a lot about ancient Israel’s government that we would not want to replicate now, but it’s interesting that this particular office hasn’t changed much. The qualification for a local trial judge has pretty much always involved the same skill set: Someone who’s fair, someone who can’t be bribed, someone who follows the law.

David Johnson and John Tidwell meet those qualifications without reservation.