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District delimiters

You have to wonder if the advocates of the just-certified Initiative 24 recognize the double-edged nature of their proposal.

The initiative’s idea is this: The members of Oregon’s Supreme Court, which has seven justices, and Court of Appeals, which has 10, would be elected from districts around Oregon, rather than at large. The effort seems to have special appeal among people in rural areas, especially east of the Cascades: The justices and judges always seem to come from the Portland-Salem axis – and if not exactly all of them, then certainly a whole lot of them. You can understand the frustration.

One problem with the idea though is that, once elected, the judges and justices are going to live in and operate out of Salem anyway. If they weren’t Willamette Valley types before their election, they will be afterward. Unlike state legislators or even members of Congress, they won’t be headed back to their districts to hear from constituents.

The up-side to the initiative, from the rural interest viewpoint, is that they’d be guaranteed a presence on the court. The downside is the limitation of that presence. On even the 10-member Court of Appeals, all of Oregon east of the Cascades would get just about . . . one seat. And that’s as much as they’d ever be able to get; under the present plan, you could in theory elect judge after judge from the big wide open. They’d get less than that on the Supreme Court. Meantime, under the new plan, the Portland metro area’s domination of the courts would be locked in.

Before Oregonians cast their ballots on 24, someone might want to point this out.

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