Bill would require justices to draw straws for job

OLYMPIA — Still stinging from a Supreme Court ruling last week that overturned tax-increase constraints on the Legislature, three Republican senators have introduced a bill seeking to cut the high court by four justices.

The measure, introduced Wednesday, would require a public meeting for the current nine justices to draw straws. The four that draw the shortest straws “shall be terminated and those judges shall not serve the remainder of their respective unexpired terms.”

Any savings to the state would be used to fund basic education. That section is a reference to the court’s order that the Legislature is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to pay for education in the state.

Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner, of Spokane, insists it’s a serious bill, saying that as the Legislature looks to make cuts in other areas of state government, “why should the judiciary be exempt?”

Supreme Court justices currently make more than $164,000 a year. Baumgartner said that by reducing the court, you also reduce salaries that need to be paid to their clerks and other staffers.

“There’s a lot of school teachers you could hire with these salaries,” he said.

When asked about the drawing straws scenario, he said it was “simply an issue of making it fair.”

Sen. Doug Ericksen, of Ferndale, and Janea Holmquist Newbry, of Moses Lake, have signed on to the bill, as well.

In a 6-3 ruling last week, the court ruled that an initiative requiring a two-thirds requirement for tax increases was in conflict with the state constitution and that lawmakers and the people of Washington would need to pass a constitutional amendment in order to change from a simple majority to a supermajority.

It’s been estimated that the state needs about $4 billion to fulfill its constitutional promise to fully pay for basic education by 2018. The Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to show meaningful progress toward that goal during this session. The state also faces an estimated $975 million shortfall for the next biennium.

Baumgartner’s bill notes that originally, only five justices sat on the state Supreme Court, as written in the state constitution. In 1905, the Legislature permanently expanded the court to seven justices, and in 1909, it was increased to the present nine. Under his measure, the number of judges on the court could be increased by a constitutional amendment — the same requirement the court said was necessary for a two-thirds requirement for tax increase votes.

To pass a constitutional amendment, two-thirds majority of the Legislature must give its approval and then a vote of the people.

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen isn’t worried that she’ll be drawing straws on the Supreme Court steps any time soon. Noting that only three justices come up for election at any time, and that all of the justices are in office until at least 2014, she said she’s not certain the bill doesn’t run afoul of the constitution.

“It certainly seems unlikely it could be done,” she said. “It just does not appear to me to be completely thought through, if it’s intended to be serious at all.”

More in Local News

Food stuffs for a local chapter of A Simple Gesture at Fitness Evolution, the communal pick-up point, in Arlington on Jan. 12. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
There’s an easier way to donate to food banks

Grab a green bag, fill it gradually with grocery items — and someone will pick it up from your home.

Lake Stevens man shot by deputies reportedly was suicidal

The fatal shooting is the latest incident where someone apparently wanted police to fire.

Man suspected of robbing Rite Aids

Mill Creek police released a sketch Monday evening of the suspect.

Suspect: Marysville church fire ignited by burning shoelaces

The 21-year-old told police it was an accident, but he’s under investigation for second-degree arson.

Police seek witnesses to Marysville hit-and-run

A Seattle man suffered broken bones in the accident.

Tracking device leads police to bank robbery suspect

The man walked into a Wells Fargo around 3:15 Tuesday and told the teller he had a bomb.

Mayor, others break ground on low-barrier housing in Everett

Somers: The complex is expected to save lives and “really shows the heart of this community.”

Former Everett councilman also sued his employer, the county

Ron Gipson says he suffered racial discrimination related to an investigation into sexual harassment.

Teen charged with murder in shooting over car

A Lynnwood teen has been charged with second-degree murder for… Continue reading

Most Read