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Topic: Washington State Supreme Court
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November 26, 2013 at 1:36 PM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature of the Seattle Times Editorial Page. Here editorial writers Lynne K. Varner and Bruce Ramsey come down on opposite sides of a recent Washington Supreme Court ruling supporting state law forbidding guns to persons arrested for, but not yet convicted of, a gun crime.
Lynne, take a look at the case of Roy Steven Jorgenson of Woodland, Cowlitz County, which came down Nov. 21 from the Washington Supreme Court. He was arrested of shooting someone and was about to be tried for first degree assault. Out on bail, he was arrested for having a 9-mm handgun and AR-15 rifle in his car. He wasn’t threatening anyone and wasn’t defending himself. He just had them. And under the state law forbidding possession of weapons by anyone charged with a serious crime, he was convicted of illegal possession.
At the Washington Supreme court he argued that the law violated his constitutional right to bear arms. Five justices—Steven González, Barbara Madsen, Debra Stephens, Susan Owens and Mary Fairhurst—disagreed, and the court ruled against him. They did not argue that the law was needed to defend the public, but that the Legislature thought it was, and that the court should defer to the Legislature under a rule of “intermediate scrutiny.”
Justice Charles Wiggins wrote the main dissent, signed by justices Charles Johnson, Jim Johnson and Tom Chambers. (Apart from González, Lynne, this is a case of the women versus the men.) The law was unconstitutional, Wiggins argued, because it applied to everyone charged for certain offenses, and that violated due process of law—the 14th Amendment. In Wiggins’ view, this was not about the right to own guns. “It is entirely appropriate to prohibit some individuals accused of a serious crime from possessing firearms,” Wiggins wrote (italics mine). But he argued that an accused person accused ought to have the chance to argue for himself and have a judge make a decision specific to him.
Jim Johnson, the court’s conservative, said he agreed with Wiggins on due process, but another thing bothered him. The majority had used “intermediate scrutiny.” When a fundamental right is at stake, he said, the court should use strict scrutiny, which means the law had to be “narrowly tailored” to achieve a “compelling governmental interest.” Washington’s law isn’t.
I agree with Wiggins and Jim Johnson. Firearm ownership is an individual right, whether we like it or not. (And the majority opinion by González admits this.) The judge should have been allowed to suspend that right for Jorgenson (and probably would have, too) by citing risks specific to him. A blanket prohibition pokes too large a hole in a constitutional right.
Bruce, I’ll take your argument apart in a second. But first, let me start with the question of why anyone would need to drive around with a 9-mm Tokarev and an Olympic Arms AR-15 rifle in their car? Is he on the lam from the mob? Does he have a Napoleon complex and need the extra metal, so to speak?
I know about our Second Amendment rights. But I am tired of gun owners ending up on the front page crying about how they did not know fill-in-the-blank-name-of-shooting-victim would get a hold of the weapons and shoot themselves or others. Then, once their lax gun ownership responsibilities have created a mess, they look to taxpayer-funded emergency and social services to clean it up. Want to know what I’ll be thankful for on Thursday? When I do not have to hear another gun owner tell me why they have the right to walk around armed like they’re headed to Afghanistan.
But I digress.
The case before the state Supreme Court was about intermediate versus strict scrutiny, the difference between narrow application of a goal needed to achieve a compelling public interest and something broader. State law prohibits people from having a firearm if they have been released on bond after a judge has found probable cause to believe the person committed a serious offense. The law is a preventative measure erring on the side of pubic safety.
“The State has an important interest in restricting potentially dangerous persons from using firearms,” Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote in the majority opinion.
You note that Roy Jorgenson was arrested under suspicion of shooting someone. It was more than that Bruce. He was released on bond after a trial court found probable cause that he had indeed shot someone. The justice system weighed the evidence against Jorgenson and found it credible enough to continue moving the case forward. As the majority opinion noted, when a trial judge finds probably cause, public safety justifies temporarily limiting a person’s right to possess firearms. Note the word “temporary.”
Firearm ownership is a right protected by the U.S. Constitution. But your right to bear arms should not extend to putting the public at greater risk. State law, reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, strikes the right balance.
October 11, 2013 at 6:00 AM
I greet with some consternation the Washington Supreme Court ruling that police officers’ license to search people extends to their purse, even if the purse is not on their person but nearby.
Long story short. Police arrested a woman in 2009 who was a passenger in a car with stolen license plates. The officer handcuffed her and placed her in the back of the cruiser and then returned to the car and searched her purse, finding methamphetamine.
A Yakima County Superior Court judge ruled the meth couldn’t be used at trial because the officer didn’t have a warrant to search her purse. A state appeals court agreed. But the state’s highest court Thursday reversed the lower courts, saying that because the purse was in the woman’s lap when she was arrested, it was an article of her person under the long standing “time of arrest” rule.
The upshot: In the eyes of law enforcement, I am my purse. Search one, search the other. I was afraid this would happen one day.
First, I admire anyone who would not give up seconds after trying to search through my over-sized purse. I’m leery about sticking my own hand in there. I have found old lunches in my purse. I once cut my finger on a knife stored next to a dehydrated grapefruit I forgot to eat. I routinely lose small objects, keys, etc., in the inner folds of my purse. On a positive note, when I recently forgot a canvas bag at the grocery store, my purse worked just as well. So now police can search me and it.
Justice Debra Stephens, writing for the majority, said that in the Yakima case, the purse was initially on the woman’s lap and thus should be considered part of her person. Justice Mary Fairhurst disagreed, arguing that these kinds of searches are meant to protect officers from any hidden weapons or prevent someone from destroying evidence.
But once the woman was handcuffed and sitting in the police cruiser, there were no security concerns that would justify searching her belongings without a warrant.
This case was not a slamdunk. At a hearing on a motion to suppress the meth as evidence, it was argued that it was obtained in violation of the woman’s Fourth Amendment protections against “unreasonable” searches and seizures. Indeed, the trial court conceded that “[t]he facts here fall slightly outside of being completely on point with” two past precedent setting cases, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Arizona v. Gant ruling and the high court’s own ruling in State v. Valdez.
A 5-4 decison means the court was clearly conflicted. What’s your take on the court’s ruling?
June 26, 2013 at 1:39 PM
Just seven years ago, the Washington Supreme Court gave great deference to the state Legislature’s right to discriminate against same-sex marriage.
In the 2006 Anderson v. King County ruling upholding the state Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Barbara Madsen wrote that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) didn’t violate couples’ rights to equal protection because those couples couldn’t show they required “favored minority class” status. Because of this flawed framing, it gave overly broad leeway for the Legislature to enable discrimination. Moreover, the ruling validated the Legislature’s authority to obsess over opposite-sex procreation. According to the Anderson ruling:
That is, the legislature was entitled to believe that providing that only opposite-sex couples may marry will encourage procreation and child-rearing in a “traditional” nuclear family where children tend to thrive.
Today, the supposedly more conservative U.S. Supreme Court flipped that argument on its head in U.S. v. Windsor. In its majority opinion, the court said:
DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government. The Constitution’s guarantee of equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate treatment of that group… DOMA cannot survive under these principles.
Justice Anthony Kennedy rightly peeled back the discriminatory intent of the federal DOMA (and its offspring, like Washington’s DOMA).
DOMA’s avowed purpose and practical effect are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States. DOMA’s history of enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages… was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence.
It was particularly refreshing to see Kennedy confront the contention that children are somehow inherently harmed by parentage by loving same-same couples, a bugaboo of same-sex proponents and an argument advanced by our state Supreme Court. (more…)
April 26, 2013 at 11:22 AM
It’s really, really hard to recall an elected official in Washington. The gold standard of recall-worthy idiocy was Dexter Amend, the doddering elected coroner of Spokane County while I worked at the Spokesman-Review in the mid-1990s. He was hit with a recall petition, as described in a Seattle Times news report, asking if an 11-year-old boy had been masturbating before he was burned to death and focusing an autopsy on the “rectal region” of a man who died of AIDS. The man was obsessed with homosexuality, an ideologue and loon. The county racked up claim after claim. Reporters consider him a joke. But, like most recall petitions, that one got tossed out, according to another Times news story.
So did less worthy recall petitions against then-City Council president Richard Conlin (Seattle Times news story), ex-Secretary of State Sam Reed (Seattle Times story) and the mayor of Coulee (AP story). It took a scandal the size of Spokane Mayor Jim West to get a recall petition on the ballot. (Here is the Times story on that.)
And now, we have Cy Sun, the mayor of tiny Pacific, which straddles the boundary between King and Pierce counties. The state Supreme Court this week sent Sun to face a recall election, likely ending his brief tenure as the area’s most erratic mayor.
Sun, elected as a write-in in 2011, has driven Pacific to the brink of bankruptcy by firing or provoking resignation from most of the city department heads, including three police chiefs in quick succession. The city lost its insurance, faces millions in legal claims (including a new one brought just this week by a group of fired police officers), and was on the brink of dissolution last year.