OLYMPIA – The state Supreme Court will lose one of its more conservative members next month. Citing “recent health concerns” Justice Jim Johnson announced Monday he will retire at the end of April.
A former state assistant attorney general, Johnson became a voice for strict construction, limited government and the ability of the public to put constraints on their government through initiatives. He was the author of blistering dissents in one of the court’s most controversial and wide-reaching decisions, the so-called McCleary ruling, that ordered the Legislature to spend more on public schools to meet its constitutional obligations. He termed it “a clear usurpation of the Legislature’s constitutionally mandated duty.”
Before his election in 2004, Johnson helped write or defend several state initiatives. The press release announcing his early retirement said he “vows to continue such efforts, to protect and exercise the people’s right to control government.”
He has been absent from oral arguments since mid-February and wasn’t expected to return for the court’s winter term. His term runs through 2016, and the state will hold a special election this year to fill out that term. Gov. Jay Inslee can appoint a replacement to fill the seat in the meantime.