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Plan to shrink Washington Supreme Court size to be heard by Senate

OLYMPIA – A plan to shrink the state Supreme Court by two justices was praised Monday by some as a money-saver and criticized by others as payback for decisions some legislators don’t like.

The proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, would cut the nine-member court to seven. It moved out of the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Monday on a voice vote, giving it a chance for a vote by the full Senate in the coming weeks.

The court has had nine members since 1909, and proposals to reduce that number date to the 1980s. But it took on new steam this year with many legislators arguing the high court overstepped its authority by ordering the Legislature to spend more on public schools and report its plans to meet the constitutional mandate on education.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said everyone disagrees with the court at some point, but the bill was an ill-advised reaction to some recent decisions. “This is simply a poke at another branch of government.”

Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said the cuts would be made by attrition, and the next two justices to retire simply wouldn’t be replaced: “There would be no drawing of straws at high noon on the steps of the Temple of Justice.”

California and Florida, which are more populous, have seven members on their highest courts and the Idaho Supreme Court has five, he said. The reduction would save about $1 million per year in salaries and expenses for each justice.

“Seven is a reasonable number. We’re not eliminating any specific judge,” Padden said.