I’ve mentioned that the last few years have proven eventful in the relationship between the Washington legislature and supreme court. The latest actions include dis-inviting the chief justice from delivering a state of the judiciary address and proposals to change judicial selection in the state.
First, some background.
The supreme court has ruled the legislature failed to provide sufficient K-12 funding under a constitutional provision that
It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.
Most recently it held the legislature in contempt for failure to provide more funding.
The legislative response has been to suggest reducing the supreme court from 9 members down to the constitutionally minimum 5 by drawing straws or down to 7 by attrition with the proceeds to go to K-12 education (that version made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2014).
Another legislator introduced a bill to compel the supreme court render decisions within certain timelines, using language and deadlines almost identical to those the supreme court imposed on the legislature for additional K-12 funding.
The latest activity occur in the last few weeks. On December 19, several members of the House proposed changing the currently nonpartisan races for the supreme court to partisan ones (HB 1051). The reasoning? The supreme court has acted like a legislature and should therefore be elected like one. From the bill
The legislature finds that because the supreme court has decided to act like the legislature and has thus violated the separation of powers, the supreme court should be considered partisan like the legislature.
In late December the legislature ended a practice started in 1995 and repeated every odd-numbered year since of inviting the chief justice to deliver a state of the judiciary address to the legislature.
Finally there is apparently a proposal to have the justices of the supreme court elected by district, rather than statewide. Proponents argue that 8 of the 9 justices are from more urban Eastern Washington and therefore considered by proponents more liberal that the rest of the state. Such a move would require a constitutional amendment (“The judges of the supreme court shall be elected by the qualified electors of the state at large…”) A similar effort was made by conservative forces in Oregon in 2006 (Measure 40) through initiative rather than through the legislature; it failed with only 43% voting yes.