Short Take: Franklin Bynum, Socialist To Judge?

I’m friends with Frank Bynum, who’s the Democratic candidate for Harris County Criminal Court 8 judge. I contributed to his campaign because I think he’ll make a great judge. He knows the law and he has a deep concern for the rights of the accused. What more could you want from a judge?

HOUSTON — There was no question on primary night in Texas last month that Franklin Bynum would win the Democratic nomination to become a criminal court judge in Houston. The 34-year-old defense attorney had no challengers.

Frank will be on the ballot as a Democrat, but his affiliation is the Democratic Socialists of America.

“Yes, I’m running as a socialist,” Mr. Bynum said. “I’m a far-left candidate. What I’m trying to do is be a Democrat who actually stands for something, and tells people, ‘Here’s how we are going to materially improve conditions in your life.’”

A socialist? Doesn’t that mean he’s embraced a failed economic system, fundamentally contrary to our American system of capitalism?

Supporters, many of them millennials, say they are drawn by D.S.A.’s promise to combat income inequality, which they believe is tainting every facet of American life, from the criminal justice system to medical care to politics. They argue that capitalism has let them down, saddling them with student debt, high rent and uncertain job prospects. And they have been frustrated by the Democratic Party, which they say has lost touch with working people.

“The only group that expressed net positive support for capitalism were people over 50 years old,” he said. “The largest generation of Americans in history — millennials — have lost confidence. They are interested in finding a better way.”

There is nothing, per se, wrong with wanting to find “a better way.” Nor is there anything wrong with wanting to materially improve the conditions for those who are suffering financially. There are a lot of people in that situation. This is about financial survival, not microaggressions or turf wars for terfs.

He wants his campaign to highlight injustices in Harris County, where historically roughly 40 percent of defendants in misdemeanor court were kept in jail because they could not pay bail.

See a problem with the routine incarceration of the defendants held on routine bail, with all the baggage of conviction and downward spiral of being a criminal along with it? The system has been perennially in the hands of judges who get their campaign contributions from police unions, who campaign on promises to keep your daughters safe at night from the animals.

But the Harris County Democratic Party is struggling to figure out what to make of Mr. Bynum, who they say stands a good chance of being elected, along with other Democrats on the local ballot in November. Mr. Bynum’s Republican opponent, Dan Simons, a former prosecutor backed by religious conservatives, is already fund-raising under the slogan “Reject socialism.”

But if this leaves you scratching your head, wondering what socialism has to do with being a criminal court judge, it doesn’t. Frank won’t get to divvy up the loot and disperse it to the poor. What he will get to do is reflect the concern for the accused that others happily gloss over in the effort to err on the side of order, of safety and against liberty and freedom.

Gerald Birnberg, a former chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, has discouraged Mr. Bynum from talking about socialism or bail reform on the campaign trail. Socialism is too taboo in Texas, he said. And although bail reform is important, he said, “it’s not an issue that inspires voters in Harris County.”

Would anyone want a socialist president? Or senator? Or governor? Of course not. Not that the nice folks with their hands on the wheel now don’t suck big time, but socialism isn’t the answer either. Remember, the alternative to bad isn’t necessarily good. It can always get worse.

But when it comes to the type of guy I want to see sitting on the bench, the forces that push Frank to socialism, his concern for the accused, both their rights and their lives, the concerns shift. I wouldn’t want to have socialist hands on the purse strings, but on the gavel?

When it comes to the law, economic labels are kind of goofy. Rather, it’s shorthand for a guy who cares more about the rights of the accused than hanging out with cops. Vote for Franklin Bynum. He’ll make a great judge.

15 thoughts on “Short Take: Franklin Bynum, Socialist To Judge?

  1. wilbur

    Well, it’s not too hard to win the nomination when you’re unchallenged on the primary ballot.

    I don’t know any of the candidates; I’ll take your word for it that Bynam is a good guy. But I suspect the only way Simons doesn’t win the general is if before the election he pleads guilty to sexual assault. On a child. Who’s a family member. And the same gender. And mentally challenged.

    1. SHG Post author

      The great thing about elections is that they’re going to end up as they end up regardless. Harris County has been through a massive scandal over the routine deprivation of bail to defendants, not to mention a few high profile instances of outrageous police misconduct. They need to clean up their judges. This is how that can be accomplished.

  2. PDB

    Geez, I’m 34, and I’m not even in the same universe as the people who become judges. (Of course, I live in Chicago, so to even get on the ballot, I would have to suck off various crooked Dem politicians – none of who give a damn about bail reform, civil rights, or anything else).

    Good luck to Frank Bynum. Hopefully he will offer more than lip service to the constitutional rights of the accused.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m not a huge fan of lawyers becoming judges until they’ve done significant time in the trenches. No matter how smart and well-intended they may be, they lack the breadth of experience with both law and people* that can only come from time. That said, when the options are limited, a good young judge is better than a bad young judge, or old judge for that matter.

      *When I was asked if I wanted to be a judge, it was made clear to me that I would have to blow the county leader. I refused. Now I get to enjoy the vast wealth and prestige of being a blawger. Yay, me.

  3. WAN

    Partisan judicial elections are a strange and uncomfortable thing (they’re non-partisan where I am, though that doesn’t keep the parties from supporting particular candidates). I’m not sure how much I could get behind a judicial candidate who wants to talk a lot about his specific party label. It could be that he is not actually campaigning on it a lot but rather this article is emphasizing it. But generally speaking, if someone says I’m running as a far right Republican or as a far left socialist or far left whatever, my immediate thought is that this person is an political ideologue who is ill-suited for the judicial branch. Then again, it may be that in judicial races in TX the discussion of party politics among campaigners is very much a norm.

    1. SHG Post author

      If someone is writing an article about your candidacy in the NYT, and wants to talk about SDA, you give them a quote because reasons. That doesn’t mean he’s an ideologue, but then, I know Frank and am far more concerned with how he’ll be as a judge.

  4. PseudonymousKid

    Dear Papa,

    Democratic Socialists of America are not socialists. They are social democrats. Lots of people like to call themselves socialists who aren’t really for whatever reason. They and Bernie get smeared as socialist but not even they are “far-left.” Bernie hearts capitalism for fuck’s sake. If ignorant fucks didn’t throw “socialist” around as an insult, we might have a more accurate discussion of what things actually are. No, Trump isn’t a fucking fascist either for that matter.

    So they are socialists so much as they want everyone working together and limiting private profit and singing kumbaya. They do not want to upend the current order of things, just mollify conditions for the poor. They are not socialists.

    Socialism is the answer, whether it’s the answer now or not, but who is this bougie to say, really?


      1. PseudonymousKid

        Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
        Towering over your head
        Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
        And she’s gone

      2. wilbur

        You gon’ let him get away with calling you an “ignorant fuck”? Or do you just sigh and move on? The latter is usually prudential. I’ll grant you its NOMB anyway.

        Like my departed dad used to say to me “Son, I know you don’t know nothing but waddya’ think?” It took me many years to understand from whence that question arose.

        1. SHG Post author

          Calling me an “ignorant fuck” is one of the smartest things he’s ever said. I wouldn’t want to discourage him.

    1. LocoYokel

      And if they limit my right to profit why would I want to do business anywhere they have control? Limiting “private profit” also limits investing in the local economy and creating local jobs. Any entrepreneur will tell you they are not going to bust their (metaphorical) balls creating a business just to have you come along and take it away because “You didn’t build that” and don’t deserve the profits of your endeavors.

      Sorry for the dive down the rabbit hole. Feel free to not post.

          1. SHG Post author

            I always feel free to not post, but it also serves to warn anyone else inclined to take the dive as well.

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