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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Choices for Washington’s top court few but easy: Stephens, Johnson

The Supreme Court’s involvement in education funding has become the No. 1 issue in the state, but none of the four justices running for re-election has drawn a serious challenger. Justices Mary Yu and Mary Fairhurst are unopposed.

Justice Debra Stephens is the only Eastern Washington representative on the court. She was picked to join the court in 2007, and faced no opposition in 2008. Her only foe this time is a former attorney who is using the contest to protest his disbarment. John (Zamboni) Scannell is deemed “unqualified” by the Washington State Prosecutors Association and “not qualified” by the King County Bar Association.

Stephens has been rated “exceptionally well-qualified” across the board. She is knowledgeable, incisive and articulate. She was a good choice to write the complex 2012 McCleary decision, a constitutional issue about the ample funding of basic education that has stalked the Legislature for decades. She was careful to show that the Legislature was failing to meet its own definitions and timelines, as set forth in two bills. We agree that lawmakers have failed to meet their constitutional duty, but we’re not persuaded the court needed to take the unprecedented step of retaining jurisdiction.

Stephens showed admirable restraint on another issue, when she disagreed with the court majority that tossed the state law requiring a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers to pass tax increases. The court previously had declined to take the case, saying it was a matter for lawmakers to decide. She said the court should have held firm.

Justice Charles W. Johnson, originally from Tacoma and residing in Gig Harbor, agreed with Stephens, saying he wasn’t swayed by the legislative maneuvering that enticed the court to take the case. Johnson is the longest-serving member of the court. He consistently rates “exceptionally well-qualified.”

Johnson concurred with the McCleary decision. Though the Supreme Court will monitor compliance of McCleary, he believes the solutions will come from the Legislature.

Johnson was an early proponent of televised court hearings, and he says the U.S. Supreme Court should get on board. He advocates more measures to demystify the courts and increase public access. He lauds reforms in juvenile justice that have moved away from detention and toward helping improve young people’s lives.

His opponent, Eddie Yoon, a former assistant prosecutor from Tacoma, mostly lauded himself in an endorsement interview. He is a professor of U.S. constitutional law at the EWHA Women’s Law School in Seoul, South Korea. He says he could continue teaching if elected, because being on the court is “a very easy job.”

He derided the current court for lacking personality and pizzazz. His main goal appears to be his legacy. He wants to write a singular opinion that would be quoted for centuries to come. On what topic? Doesn’t matter. Yoon doesn’t appear in any of the judicial ratings.

Voters have a very easy job in these races. Hopefully, they will be more competitive next time.

To view the general election endorsements published so far, go to http://www.spokesman.com/tags/ 2014-endorsement/
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