town hall meeting last month, State Senator Michael Baumgartner explained that the Senate bipartisan coalition is focused on the economy, education, and creating a sustainable budget and would not be bringing up social issues even if it's a bill passed by the House. True to form, this past week Baumgartner submitted SB 5867, which reduced from the number of justices on the Supreme Court from nine to five in order to save money.
Excerpts from the bill (bolding mine):
The legislature finds that given the tremendous strains on the state budget, it is crucial to view all state operations in light of the state's paramount and constitutionally required duties. This is true for all state agencies under each of the coequal branches of government, including the judicial branch. The state Constitution in Article IV, section 2 provides that there shall be five supreme court judges. For over one hundred years, the legislature has seen fit by statute to add four additional justices to that august body.
Recent opinions by the Washington state supreme court have demonstrated that this legislative decision may be constitutionally problematic. First, the court has made it clear that the state legislature should be focused on prioritizing its budget according to constitutionally mandated duties, McCleary v. State, 173 Wn. 477, 269 P.3d 227 (2012). Given the nature of this mandate, the legislature finds that it can no longer justify the luxury of four additional supreme court justices. In addition, the Washington state supreme court has indicated that the legislature may exceed its authority when it adds to the minimum requirements provided in the plain language of the state Constitution, League of Education Voters v. Gregoire, Case No. 87425-5 (2013)(law requiring tax increases receive a two-thirds vote unconstitutional in light of plain constitutional language providing for a minimum voting requirement for passage of bills). With due deference to the doctrine of separation of powers and the Washington state supreme court as head of a coequal branch of government, the legislature finds that the state supreme court should return to the minimum number of judges provided for and enshrined in the state Constitution.
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.
It's not about the rulings that Baumgartner disagrees with, one of which was decided just the week before. It's about the luxury of four additional justices and saving the state $2 million a year. And the emergency clause tacked onto the end which exempts the bill from repeal by referendum? That's because we need that $2 million immediately to help offset the $2 billion shortfall.
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