Efforts to force members of the Washington state supreme court off the bench via legislation appear to be increasing, including a term limits proposal and a plan to declare 4 seats on the court simply vacant.
First, some background:
The Washington State constitution (Art. IV, Sec. 2) provides for a 5-member supreme court, but gives the legislature the power to increase its membership. The legislature has done so, creating the current 9-member court in the early 1900s (RCW 2.04.070)
Art. IV, Sec. 2: The supreme court shall consist of five judges, a majority of whom shall be necessary to form a quorum, and pronounce a decision…The legislature may increase the number of judges of the supreme court from time to time and may provide for separate departments of said court.
RCW 2.04.070: The supreme court, from and after February 26, 1909, shall consist of nine judges.
Despite the constitutional provision several members of the House want to declare the existing 9-member court unconstitutional and have introduced the “We Want a Constitutional Court Act.” (HB 2784) The bill amends 2.04.070 to read
The supreme court shall consist of five judges as required by Article 4, section 2 of the state Constitution.
It also provides all 9 current members of the court must immediately face one another in an election to fill the 5 seats; the terms of the 4 losing justices would end immediately after the election.
At the same time a constitutional amendment to term limit and reduce the terms of the Washington supreme court has also been filed in the Washington House. Under HJR 4217 justices of the court would see their terms cut from 6 years down to 4 years. In addition, justices would be limited to two terms, for a total of 8 years. Unlike the proposal currently in the Florida House which specifically applies only prospectively, HJR 4217 does not indicate one way or the other if it would apply to the current court. Such a retroactive plan was rejected by Colorado voters in 2006. If applied retroactively, the amendment could force several members of the court off the bench.
HJR 4217 has been filed in the House Judiciary Committee.