Washington Republicans wanted more Supreme Court justices before they wanted fewer of them

March 7, 2013 | Aaron Keating

wa-leg-division-1905-1909A Republican Senate bill seeks to cut four justices from the state Supreme Court – by requiring the current nine justices to draw straws to see who keeps their job. Funny thing: Republicans were responsible for putting nine justices on the bench in the first place.

Admittedly, this all happened a while ago. Five justices sat on the state Supreme Court when Washington’s adopted its constitution in 1889. Legislators permanently expanded the court to seven justices in 1905, at a time when Republicans outnumbered Democrats 37-5 in the Senate and 90-4 in the House. And in 1909, when Republicans had a 39-3 majority in the Senate and an 89-6 advantage in the House, legislators increased the number of justices to the present-day nine.

Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane), one of three legislators sponsoring the measure to cut the number of justices to five, says his bill is about saving the state some money. A more plausible motivation: state Republicans are pretty unhappy with a recent Supreme Court ruling that returned majority rule to the Legislature for closing tax loopholes or raising other revenue.

Perhaps that’s the message of this provision in Baumgartner’s bill: the number of judges on the court could be increased by a constitutional amendment – exactly what the Supreme Court ruled was necessary to require a two-thirds supermajority for revenue increases.

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