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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

March 6, 2013 at 6:18 PM

Sen. Baumgartner’s tilt at the Washington Supreme Court

State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, showed a certain cheekiness by running against U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell last November. Now he shows a sense of humor by sponsoring Senate Bill 5867, to toss out four of the nine justices on the Washington Supreme Court.

His bill (co-sponsored by Republican senators Doug Ericksen and Janéa Holmquist Newbry) notes that the state constitution says the Court shall have five justices—and that in 1909 the Legislature changed that by law, making it nine.

But the Court just ruled, in the two-thirds-for-taxes case, League of Education Voters v. Gregoire, that the two-thirds requirement was unconstitutional in light of the plain constitutional language. And it recently ruled in the school-funding case, McCleary v. State, that the Legislature should focus on its constitutionally mandated duties. Therefore, the bill says, let’s repeal the 1909 law and shrink the Court back to five justices to save money for education.

And how to shrink the Court? Here’s how, according to the bill:

“On June 30, 2013, all existing judges of the state supreme court shall meet in public to cast lots by drawing straws. Effective July 1, 2013, the positions of the four judges casting losing lots by drawing the shortest straws shall be terminated…”

Imagine the nine justices drawing straws. And the final joke:

“This act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and takes effect June 30, 2013.”

I asked Baumgartner about his bill. He kept a straight face about it (over the telephone). About the drawing of straws he said if he had chosen the justices to be jettisoned he would have placed himself above the voters of Washington. He didn’t want to do that, he said, “unlike the Supreme Court.”

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