Washington Legislature Snubs State Supreme Court By Refusing To Allow Chief Justice To Give State Of The Judiciary Address

By Darren Smith Weekend Contributor

Washington Chief Justice Barbara Madsen
Chief Justice Barbara Madsen

The intrigue after the fallout generated by State Supreme Court holding the state, and essentially the legislature, in contempt for failing to adequately address their constitutionally mandated funding of primary education, the legislature refused to allocate time to allow Barbara Madsen, the Chief Justice, to give the State of The Judiciary Address.

Legislators claimed, among other issues, it was due to the historical lack of attendance by members and not an insult directed at the Supreme Court.

We previously reported HERE about the Washington Supreme Court ruling the legislature did not fully fund primary education pursuant to the state constitution and various court decisions holding that the legislature responsible for its inactions. After the legislature failed to meet the Supreme Court’s mandate after several warnings from the court, the court held the state, and by extension the legislature, in contempt–causing a constitutional row between the two branches of government.

The court in McCleary v. State, 173 Wn.2d 477, 269 P.3d 227 (2012) unanimously affirmed a declaratory judgment of the King County Superior Court finding that the state was not meeting its “paramount duty … to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders” under Article IX Section 1 of the state constitution. The court initially deferred to the legislature’s chosen means of discharging its constitutional duty, but retained jurisdiction over the case to monitor the State’s progress in implementing by 2018 the reforms that the legislature had recently adopted. Pursuant to its retention of jurisdiction, the court has called for periodic reports from the State on its progress. Following the State’s first report in 2012, the court issued an order directing the State to lay out its plan “in sufficient detail to allow progress to be measured according to periodic benchmarks between then and 2014.”

The legislature failed to meet the court’s demands for production of evidence of progress and the court then found the state in contempt. The issue has brought up certainly the notion of separation of powers, but the possibility of sanctions has many in the legislature motivated to now act.

The Contempt Order it reads that in 2013 the legislative session, the Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation issued a report in which the Court found that the State was not making sufficient progress to be on target to fully fund education reforms by the 2017-18 school year. Reiterating that the State had to show through immediate and concrete action that it was making real and measurable progress.  The court also issued an order in January 2014 directing the state to submit by April 30, 2014 a “complete plan for fully implementing its program of basic education for each school year between now and the 2017-18 school year,” including a “phase-in schedule for funding each of the components of basic education.”

The heat began to be turned up on the legislature when the Court ordered in June 2014 that the State appear before the court and show cause why it should not be held in contempt for violating the January order and why that if contempt is found that sanction or other relief requested by the plaintiffs in the case should not be granted.

During the show cause hearing on September third, the State admitted that it did not comply with the January order, but instead asked the court to provide the legislature with time during the 2015 budget session to develop and enact a play for fully funding K-12 by 2018.

The Supreme Court stated it would not begin contempt proceedings until after the 2015 legislative session and if the legislature failed to meet its mandate.

“The State of the Judiciary address has been a tradition in Washington State for several decades now. It has served as a positive tool to inform the Legislature and the public about the state of Washington’s justice system,” Chief Justice Madsen said in a written statement to The Olympian and The News Tribune. “I hope that, in the future, the Supreme Court will again be invited to make this important presentation.”

The State of The Judiciary Address, presided by the Chief Justice every two years, is a tradition spanning over two decades before the legislature. The address generally provides an overview of issues such as funding and progress the judiciary has made in addressing concerns such as public defenders and other matters affecting this branch of government. The governor provides a compliment called The State of the State Address.

In an interview, Senator Don Denton of Vancouver stated: “To be honest with you, most people think it’s a horrible waste of time. Most members don’t get much out of it. Most members don’t even bother attending.” He stated his preference would be to receive the address in writing with no presentation.

Sharon Nelson of Maury Island provided her insight with: “The only question I would have is will it look like a conflict that we are trying to create with the Supreme Court?”

The Tribune reported that House leadership later came to a similar conclusion, in part because it was concerned that some members upset with the court might use the vote required to schedule the joint session as an opportunity to take aim.

“I think there was some fear there would be a debate that could inflame the situation,” explained House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan of Covington.
Not wanting to convey a slap at the court, Sullivan said he met directly with Madsen during the week before Christmas. “I made clear we have no interest in legislation that is meant to punish the courts or hold them in any disregard,’’ he said.

In the end, Chief Justice Madsen stated she would provide the written statement.

Once again the state legislature has provided another reason for the public itself to hold legislatures in contempt for their conduct.  In this case its contempt for the judiciary.

It is not credible that the legislature can claim an important aspect of governance in a once every two year presentation is not worthwhile and should not be permitted. In doing so it not only prevented the judiciary’s progress report to the legislature, which could find some wisdom in taking measures to work with the judiciary to provide a better system of justice for the public, but it flatly denied the citizenry an opportunity to hear the Chief Justice provide us with an important update and forum for which we may be informed and educated. Had this been done, the presentation would have been televised by TVW and made available on video through the Internet.

But what is more contemptuous: the snub and insult; or the fact that the legislature proclaims rather robustly that it plays hooky when faced with important meetings and acts without courtesy and responsibility? The legislature in effect told Chief Justice Madsen to take a number and turned its back to her.

But, apparently, the legislature gave the appearance it was too busy performing its important duties, such as legislating, having lunch with lobbyists and making proclamations for pet projects to make them look good politically and therefore didn’t have time to deal with lesser branches of government.

Washington has a State of the State Address, held by the governor. No doubt the legislature will somehow find the time to pack the chamber to near standing room only to entreat the governor and show the tribute and respect they have for that branch of government. Maybe they can show that they in fact consider the governorship to be a branch of government equal to that of the judiciary and have him just send a letter and maybe they’ll call back.

By Darren Smith

Source: The News Tribune

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

25 thoughts on “Washington Legislature Snubs State Supreme Court By Refusing To Allow Chief Justice To Give State Of The Judiciary Address”

  1. Hurrah for the legislator. Frankly, a judge holding the state legislator in contempt for they aren’t acting fast enough to please the Court is arrogant and violates the separation of powers. BTW, what the Washington state Liberals are really try to do is get an income tax in place without the voters consent ala New Jersey. Hopefully, people in Washington will be smarter than those in Jersey.

  2. I just wish that the Republican Congress would tell President Obama to send it in writing so they won’t pre-empt “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

    But they don’t have the balls.

  3. This is essentially a “Don’t you know who I am?” story. Much the same as Kim Kardashian not getting into some club because the bouncer doesn’t recognize her ass.

    Lawyers and judges are just citizens not Gods. Thomas Jefferson, Honest Abe Lincoln, Andy Jackson and even Millard Fillmore sent up their State of the Union in writing not in person.

    This judge should get over herself.

  4. Problem number one is that the Court cannot acquire personal jurisdiction over the Legislature. As such, threats of being held in contempt are ludicrous.

    If the Legislature fails to perform their constitutionally mandated duties, the answer lies in the voting booth…not the Court.

    Perhaps the best way to resolve this is to have the Court point to the source of their authority over the legislature.

    Usurpation – the exercise of power not granted – is not legitimated by repetition. The people, as John Adams inscribed in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, are ever entitled to demand of their magistrates an “exact and constant observance” of the principles of the Constitution, above all, to exercise no powers not granted. We may not, therefore, shut our eyes to the issue of legitimacy.

    And if somebody is really upset because the judges state of the judiciary won’t be available on video, I’m sure they can find a place for the judge to deliver it while being recorded.

  5. Thank you Father (CVM), Cannon for Veteran’s Ministry, you helped me understand the crux of the problem. I felt like I was in church listening to a homily. 🙂

  6. If we are a nation of laws, we can’t ignore our laws. If we don’t like a law, we should work on changing it. There are laws I don’t like either, but guess what, they are still our laws.

  7. This article’s account is befitting Santayana’s take on the importance of studying history. For this state of affairs in Washington State, we need go no farther than your (dusty?) Bible. In particular, we go to the first book of the Bible. In this case, we go to the account of Pharaoh and Joseph. (After all, I do have to have at least a bit of Biblical reference, right?) Joseph, you see, convinced Pharaoh that Egypt had to lay up a surplus for a coming time of famine. Pharaoh followed what Joseph suggested and sure enough starvation from the future famine was avoided.

    Now in our near ancient times, 2003 for 2004-2008, Washington State elected a new Pharaoh named Christine O’Grady Gregoire. Her realm had already accumulated $3 billion in a surplus prior to her enthronement. Now within her kingdom all were aware that Boeing and other companies have cyclical employment. A previous famine was still well known to at least the middle-aged of her kingdom. There was even a billboard which asked the last person out of Seattle to turn out the light.

    But in her Nanny State wisdom, the new Pharaoh quickly obligated the whole of the surplus budget and increased the number of beneficiaries 300%. Shrewdly, she did not increase the support structure to accommodate these folks. That would have set off alarm bells within the legislature.

    Many know of the old proverb or parable about whether or not to give a man a fish or to teach the man to fish. Our Pharaoh decided to do the former.

    We almost instantly increased the numbers being given fish while our education standards go fishing for funding. Now I have to admit that the education standards in western Washington State (in particular the Seattle region) have been consistently poor. My younger brother graduated from high school in 1975 and didn’t have a clue as to the identities of Hitler, Stalin, Eisenhower.or Roosevelt or how to use basic percent calculations. At least he knew the basic direction to Vietnam from Seattle as I road the rivers there and deployed on ships in support of several combat missions. The geographical difference between Austria and Australia. …..not a clue. At least the shop classes started him on the path as a fairly successful master automotive engine and tranny repair tech. In that sense he was taught to fish. But it got worse as his kids came of age. His younger child graduated just after Pharaoh came to power and then joined the Nanny State as Pharaoh opened the coffers.

    But not to worry,the surplus got the Nanny State through to 2008, and we all know what happened then. Well, maybe not. The Nanny was running out of money in 2007, but the Pharaoh’s base in Seattle was doing well. She was reelected by one of the slimmest margins in history. She was carried by Seattle. For an interesting play on words, the county in which Seattle sits is named King County (not named after Martin Luther King, originally). Sooo, Pharaoh was re-enthroned by (the) King.

    A State with such high tech international businesses to have regression in teacher pay, a national ranking of C in teacher quality, a D for getting quality teachers and the 5th highest student to teacher ratio. See the conundrum? Public Ed is substandard on a national level in the midst of tremendous wealth and opportunity.

    Now I don’t want to sound like the current national executive branch and keep blaming the previous one. But in this case of the Court vs Legislature, the legislature committed to fixing Pharaoh Gregoire’s problem which started with throwing away a surplus and ignoring history going back to the ancients. But then, let he or she without sin, cast the first stone. (You do know that part of that Gospel was redacted, right? A stone whizzed past his head and as Jesus turned to see who did it, he was heard to exclaim “Mother!”

    As the old guy with the cigar used to say, “Say goodnight Gracie.”


  8. It certainly seems like the legislature considers itself to be above the law, and is treating the Supreme Court with contempt. In my naivite, I thought that was why we had the concept of “contempt of court” in the judicial system.

    1. They could do what they did in LA and move the SC into the men’s bathroom.

  9. Funny I imagine that anything the Judiciary brings to the table the legislature would just pull the table away. Sad but really what does the Judiciary expect to accomplish?

  10. -Darren Smith….Very comprehensive, interesting article. I was only vaguely aware of this brewing conflict, and the history of its development.
    One brief question…could the Washington Supremes hold Idaho in contempt? I, along with some other p.o. ed drivers already do, but it’d be nice to get our Supremes on board.
    The Washington State Constitution does not allow for a military invasion of another state, so maybe our judicial branch can help out.

  11. The Chief Justice should send her State of the Judiciary speech or address to this blog and let us critique it.

  12. GSHevlin:

    Let’s enjoy the column and appreciate the effort that Smith made in writing it for us.

    Think about how demotivating your comments were.

  13. Hit [publish] button instead of [save draft]. Snafu for sure, thanks for pointing this out

  14. little people.(the legislature) The Justice ought to savor the break.

    As to the grammar and proofing issues: forget the trees, see the forest.
    I thank my lucky stars that my law school profs were able to so do, as I was first trained as an engineer and printing fast (in the days before even typing a final) led to a lot of grammatical issues.

    1. neighbordave – before I started writing my thesis my chair sent me to the library and had me check out three thesis from engineering and three from math. After I read them, he said, that is not how we do ours. Grammar and spelling count!!!

  15. When you poke the bear, you shouldn’t expect the bear to send you a thank you card.

  16. Children, Childish and why should citizens pay respect to the law and those who make and enforce it when the legislators show they have disdain for the same?

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