State Supreme Court rules supermajority Initiative 1366 unconstitutional; competitive court races seen for fall election

In one of the least surprising rulings in recent memory, the state Supreme Court yesterday tossed Initiative 1366.

The Associated Press reports,

The high court said Initiative 1366, sponsored by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman, was unconstitutional because it violated the requirement that initiatives be limited to a single subject.

Adding to the rebuke,

Three of the justices, writing in a separate concurrence opinion, wrote they believed the initiative also violated the Constitution in another way: by essentially proposing a constitutional amendment, which can’t be done by initiative in Washington.

You’ll remember,

Voters last fall narrowly approved the measure, which would have cut the sales tax by 1 percentage point beginning last month unless lawmakers allowed a public vote on a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority in the Legislature for future tax increases. A King County Superior Court judge in January ruled the measure unconstitutional.

The Washington Research Council writes,

A supermajority requirement for tax increases was first approved by voters in 1993. Since then, the requirement was suspended and reinstated several times, but the state Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional in 2013. Hence the attempt by I-1366 to induce the Legislature to begin the constitutional amendment process.

Now that the Supreme Court has thrown out this attempt, it seems that the only way forward for proponents of the supermajority requirement is to elect a Legislature that will put forward such an amendment. In the meantime, budget writers must be relieved by the decision today — the sales tax reduction in the initiative would have reduced 2017-19 revenues by an estimated $3.066 billion.

The state Supreme Court has raised its public policy profile in recent years, with the McCleary decision requiring full state funding of basic education, by finding the state in contempt for not complying with the McCleary mandate, with its rulings against the state charter school law, and with its decisions on the supermajority requirement.  

One result of that elevated status is the emergence of challengers to the court incumbents. The Seattle Times editorial board welcomes the contests. 

The three justices up for re-election each draws credible opposition. The competition reflects the extra attention owed to a court that has thrust itself into leading political issues in Washington.

…At the forefront of election season debates should be the court’s education-funding McCleary ruling, and its aggressive interpretation of the separation-of-powers doctrine. So, too, should the court’s ill-timed ruling on charter schools, which threatened the new schools only days after they had started…

Incumbents deserve to face hard questions about their rulings, and the challengers should be carefully vetted.

It’s likely yesterday’s ruling, although widely anticipated, will factor into the vetting process.