Court Monitor

Judicial Supremacy Holds Legislature in Contempt

It is not every day that a court holds the legislative branch of government in contempt. Under our basic doctrine of separation of powers, a court should never hold a co-equal branch of government, the legislature, in contempt. But the liberal Supreme Court of the State of Washington sunk to a new low by declaring its own state legislature to be in contempt for not doing what the Court wanted. That is backwards: courts should interpret what the legislature passes, not tell the legislature what to enact.

In a five-page order dated September 11, 2014, a unanimous court ignored separation of powers doctrine and belittled its own legislature. McCleary v. Washington, Supreme Court No. 84362-7. The Court decided that the legislature was not satisfying a provision in the Washington State Constitution which declares, "It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders." Wash. Const. art. IX § 1. Treating the legislature like a schoolchild, the Court required it to submit annual progress reports at the end of each legislative session to explain what the legislature was doing to spend more money on public schools.

But those progress reports were not enough for the judicial supremacists. Instead, they insisted that there be "immediate and concrete action that [the legislature] was making real and measurable progress." In January of this year, the Court issued a new order requiring the legislature to submit within a few months "a complete plan for fully implementing its program of basic education for each school year between now and the 2017-18 school year," including a phase-in schedule for fully funding each of the components of basic education.

Usually it is the judiciary that must submit reports to the legislature, in order to continue to receive funding. But judicial supremacy has gotten so far out of hand that judges now boss legislators.

The Court was subsequently displeased with the 2014 report that the legislature submitted, and the Court reacted by scheduling a contempt hearing. The legislature assured the judges that a contempt order was not necessary to get the legislature's attention." The legislature even promised that school funding would be the top priority on the legislature's agenda in the 2015 session, and that meaningful action would be taken in that non-election year.

But the supremacist court took offense at the legislature's promise to be attentive. "The court has no doubt that it already has the legislature's 'attention,'" the judges bellowed in their written order. The judges held the legislature in contempt, and promised to impose punishment if the legislature did not pass in the next legislative session what the court wants.

Adding insult to injury, the Court concluded its contempt order by even denying the legislature its right to file additional papers, such as seeking reconsideration: "No other pleadings should be filed by any of the parties except at the direction of the court." Perhaps the legislature should respond by defunding the Court instead.