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Wed., March 6, 2013, 5:05 p.m.

Baumgartner: Cut 4 Sup Court judges

OLYMPIA -- The state should reduce its Supreme Court by four members to save money, Sen. Mike Baumgartner says.

In a bill introduced today with two Republican colleagues, the Spokane legislator said the state could save as much as $2 million a year by reducing the court to five members.

In what might be considered a bit of pique over last week's decision overturning the two-thirds majority requirement for tax increases, Baumgartner said the reduction would also be in line with the court's admonition against adding requirements to clear constitutional mandates.

"The constitution clearly says that the Supreme Court shall consist of five judges," he said in a prepared statement.

That's a reference to Article IV, Section 2, but only part of that section. The whole section says: 

The supreme court shall consist of five judges, a majority of whom shall be necessary to form a quorum, and pronounce a decision. The said court shall always be open for the transaction of business except on nonjudicial days. In the determination of causes all decisions of the court shall be given in writing and the grounds of the decision shall be stated. The legislature may increase the number of judges of the supreme court from time to time and may provide for separate departments of said court.

Over time, the Legislature did increase the number of judges to the current nine.

As to how to decide which justices would stay and which would go, Baumgartner's bill suggests they draw lots. 

"Based on their recent rulings on McCleary (requiring the state spend more to improve public schools) and their rationale behind the decision to throw out the will of the people regarding the two-thirds tax rule, I expect the court will support this approach," he said in a prepared statement. If not, they can lobby for a constitutional amendment.

The bill is introduced so late in session that deadlines for new bills have passed and it has almost no chance of passing. But it could get a hearing in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, Chairman Mike Padden said, if a case can be made that the bill is necessary to implement the budget.

A House committee held a hearing this morning on a bill to abolish capital punishment, in part on a claim that such a change would affect the budget by saving money on the costly appeals for death row inmates, Padden said.




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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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