Baumgartner seeks Supreme Court’s return to constitutional structure

Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-6Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, introduced Senate Bill 5867 today, which would return the Supreme Court to the make-up mandated in the state constitution.

“Many people don’t realize that our state’s constitution mandated that only five justices serve the Supreme Court,” Baumgartner said. “Over the past century, the Legislature has added justices to give us a nine-justice panel.”

Baumgartner pointed out that after salary increases go into effect this September, Supreme Court justices will be the highest-paid elected officials in the state at more than $167,000 per year. Eliminating four positions on the bench could save between $1.5 million to $2 million per year in salary and administrative costs.

“Every dollar we save by eliminating these four positions would be automatically funneled to K-12 education to help meet the guidelines the Supreme Court laid out in the McCleary decision,” Baumgartner said. “Two million dollars a year can go a long way to funding schools, paying teachers, and preparing kids for college.”

Baumgartner noted that the Supreme Court has expressed discomfort in adding to the requirements of clear constitutional mandates.

“The constitution clearly says that the Supreme Court shall consist of five judges,” he said. “Based on their recent rulings on McCleary and their rationale behind the decision to throw out the will of the people regarding the two-thirds tax rule, I expect that the court will support this approach.”

“Of course, if the justices do disagree, nothing in my bill precludes them from coming before the legislature and the people to attempt to amend the constitution.”

When it comes to deciding which justices get cut, Baumgartner said it would be best to leave politics and tenure out of the decision.

“They can draw lots,” Baumgartner said. “That seems to be the fairest way to do it. We can let voters decide which five serve on the bench in following elections.”