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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Legislators won’t be hosting talk by chief justice

OLYMPIA -- The Legislature won't be get a "state of the judiciary" address from State Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Madsen next year.

Although such speeches have been common in recent years, the Olympian and Tacoma Morning News Tribune reported today that Madsen was non-invited to address a joint session of the Legislature. Which is a bit better than being uninvited, although the end result is the same.

Most years, the Lege asks the chief justice to come by for an update on the judiciary. But in recent years, the judiciary has not been the Legislature's favorite branch of government, and in some respects the feeling is mutual. There's that McCleary thing, in which the court told the Lege to start spending more -- lots more -- on public school education to live up to its constitutional duty. When the Legislature did essentially zilch on that score in 2014 (in fairness, they did toss about a billion into the education pot in 2013) the court found the state in contempt, and suggested very strongly the Legislature should do a much better job in 2015. There have been a few other disagreements between the branches, leading Spokane Republican Sen. Mike Baumgartner to suggest trimming the court's size and having the existing members draw straws on the steps of the Temple of Justice to see who gets to stay.

There's also a bill waiting for the upcoming session to make the currently nonpartisan races for the high court into partisan races. That's something of a head scratcher because it comes from Republican Rep. Richard DeBolt, even though Republicans right now do relatively poorly in elections for statewide office because of the imbalance of population on the usually more Democratic West Side. 

Among the reasons given for not issuing the invitation this year is that past speeches have been relatively poorly attended and the calendar is very busy with other joint sessions. But those seem a bit contradictory, because a joint session means both bodies meet in a single chamber, which means there's more people than usual in the allotted space, so missing a few legislators here and there would hardly be noticed. Or they could do it in the Senate chamber, which has half the desks, so would seem more full.

The justices will be at the front of the chamber for the governor's state of the state. In past years, Republicans have been pretty clear in their favoritism of one particular justice, Jim Johnson, the dissenter in the McCleary decision, when the court members were announced. But Johnson retired last year, and now they might not have anyone to cheer this year.


The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.