Sunday, February 24, 2008

Why Should We Care?

Why should people care about what the Washington Supreme Court does? Many folks do not know that we elect our judges in this state, unlike the federal courts where the President appoints all judges, including the Justices of the United States Supreme Court. In Washington we elect all our judges and the justices of the Supreme Court, and the people should care about what they do because this Court decides issues that have a direct impact on our lives.

The Court that now sits in Olympia, in the last few years

  • approved the City of Seattle’s grant of monopoly rights to two trash haulers,
  • expanded the government’s ability to keep public records secret,
  • overturned the public’s overwhelming vote for property tax relief,
  • declared that a mother’s right to protect her children from criminal activity that comes into the home by telephone takes second seat to the criminal’s alleged right of privacy,
  • ruled that the state can condemn your property and do no more to tell you about it than put an announcement on an internet web site that someone’s property in the neighborhood had to go,
  • and the list goes on.

In too many cases, these decisions are made even though our state Constitution says exactly the opposite. For example, Article I, Section 12 of the Constitution says: “No law shall be passed granting to any citizen, class of citizens, or corporation other than municipal, privileges or immunities which upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens, or corporations.” But the Supreme Court ruled just last week that this was no obstacle to a grant of monopoly rights to two trash haulers.

Economics 101 taught us that monopolies cause prices to rise – that is the fundamental problem with them – without competition, a monopoly can charge whatever they want for their services. So, at the most basic level, if you live in Seattle and wonder why your monthly bill for garbage collection is so high and getting higher, then you ought to care about what the Washington Supreme Court does.


Martin said...

I thought judges were to be elected based on their legal skills (ability analyze facts and apply them to law) and not upon personal views on particular issues. Moreover, I thought people seeking to be elected as a judge should campaign upon their skills and not upon issues. Your criticizing particular decisions made by the court seems to be crossing the line. While I have no personal interest in any of the decisions upon which you comment, I found the whole commentary a bit distasteful. You are seeking election based by telling the public how you would have voted and, in essence, how you will bote on particular issues in the future. In my opinion, if elected, your decisions would be highly influenced by political opinion and NOT by the law, the constitution, and fairness.

Michael J. Bond said...


Thank you for your eloquently stated concern.

In fact, I make no promises about any future case as I reserve the right to make a decision that is based upon: the record that comes to the court, the briefs and arguments that the parties' counsel present on the issue as it is presented, the discussion and advice of my fellow justices and my own decision of what is the right outcome. That outcome may be the exact opposite of what you might guess it would be from what I have said or written in the course of this campaign or the last 28 years of practice.

Because we elect our judges, in my view, the voters are entitled to know who these candidates are, where they came from, and what principles they hold dear.

A person doesn't become 55 years old and care about what is going down without forming some opinions along the way. Or, I should say, we ought not want judges who have been around for a while and haven't given it a thought or don't care about it.

An appellate judge does not "analyze the facts" -- that happens at the trial court. In a bench trial the judge decides what are the facts; in a jury trial the jury decides the facts; a Supreme Court justice deals with the facts that are decided by others.

A Supreme Court Justice takes those facts and applies the Constitution and interprets the statutes to determine whether in a particular case the trial court applied the Constitution or statute correctly. It is at that point that the justice's particular values come into focus.

And I humbly submit that those values are revealed by addressing the decisions that have been made.

Is the Constitution a living breathing document whose meaning changes depending on the politics of the day? Or is its meaning more firmly rooted?

Should we care when the Court writes an exception into the Constitution?

When a statute is unclear, what should be the basis for decision?

How far should the right of privacy reach?

How much deference should be given to the people's right of initiative?

These are not simple questions and there are no simple answers. My goal has been, not to telegraph what I will do in a future case, but to reveal where I think the Court went the wrong way in the past.

And the point that I was trying to make was that the decisions mentioned in this post were made without regard to the law, the constitution or basic fairness.