Supreme Court Vs. Legislature
1:18 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

Senator Chides High Court For 'Overreach,' Sponsors Bill To Reduce Court Size

Washington lawmakers may be tired of the state Supreme Court telling them how to do their job. At least one bill targeting the court is in front of lawmakers this session. 

The Legislature is under mandate by the State Supreme Court to increase state funding for education. Last year, the court told lawmakers to spend more, and lawmakers responded by upping education funding by $1 billion. Then a month ago, the court gave them even more specifics where the spending should go.

Now some lawmakers are fighting back against the court. Like Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who is sponsoring a bill that would reduce the number of justices on the court from nine to five.

“The timing of the bill is not coincidental. It’s also a pushback at the court's overreach and stepping out of its lane to provide a budget, in getting in to what the constitution says is the purview of the legislative branch,” he said.

What’s more, said Baumgartner, reducing the court size will save money.

“Frankly we don’t need nine, just and odd number,” he said. “Each justice costs the state $ 1 million. And frankly they aren’t overworked; they hear less cases on average than any other Supreme Court in the country”

Baumgartner believes the state can put the extra $4 million into the state’s education funding.

At a hearing in the Senate law and justice committee, Larry Shannon of the Washington Association of Justice defended the court’s record.

“There were two recent court studies done looking at the courts for their effectiveness. [In] both of them, the commonality was that Washington state finished in the top five as the most highly regarded and respected independent of the state courts in the union,” Shannon said.

Baumgartner says he believes there are many lawmakers who are supportive of his bill, especially given the controversial court rulings that include overturning a two-thirds majority requirement for tax increases in the Legislature, which was approved at the polls by voters five times.