James M. Johnson, who is considered the most conservative member of the state Supreme Court, will retire next month due to “recent health concerns,” the justice announced Monday.
Johnson, who goes by Jim, was not up for re-election until 2016. Instead, he will leave April 30.
He was re-elected without a general-election opponent in 2010.
“This has been a difficult decision, as it has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of the State of Washington for the past ten years on over 1,000 cases,” the retiring justice said in a news release. “While I have been grateful for this opportunity, recent health concerns have led me to decide that this was the right time to retire from the bench and spend time with my family and traveling.”
Johnson, a Seattle native, University of Washington Law School alumnus, Army veteran and former state assistant attorney general, has forged his own path since joining the court in 2004.
Most recently, he has become increasingly critical of his fellow justices for their continued involvement after a court order to put more money into K-12 education. Jim Johnson was the only justice to vote against a ruling ordering the Legislature to write a report on their progress by April 30.
“This court’s expanding control of the Legislature’s funding of education continues to be a violation of the state’s constitution,” he wrote at that time. “This court’s exercise of continuing jurisdiction in this case usurps what is intended to be — and what expressly is — a legislative function and duty.”
On Monday, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen said that, “Justice Jim Johnson has brought an important perspective to the court’s deliberations over the years. While his departure will be a loss for the Court, we wish him and his family all the best.”
In a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, Jim Johnson said he has “endeavored to follow in the footsteps of the Washington State Constitutional framers whose legacy is embodied in our citizenry’s robust constitutional Article I individual rights such as free speech, religious liberty and property protection.”
“I have worked to promote the separation of powers and enforce the state and federal constitutions as originally intended and written,” he wrote. “I am grateful for the opportunity to have served all the citizens of the State of Washington.”
Inslee is expected to appoint someone to fill the seat until it can be filled in the November election.