Wednesday, October 01, 2014

McCleary; One Justice Weighs in at The Stranger

Going to The Stranger Slog (as I do every morning - my go-to feed for all things Seattle, entertainment/culture and the interesting/weird), I see this interview with Supreme Court Justice Debra Stephens who wrote the McCleary decision.  (She's up for re-elected against a guy who has been disbarred.  I wonder who will win.)

Justice Stephens, who's running against disbarred lawyer John "Zamboni" Scannell this fall, wrote the McCleary decision that found the State of Washington in contempt of court for failing to adequately fund its citizens' constitutional right to a basic education. So we asked Stephens: What comes after contempt? 

“At this point, anything is on the table," she told us. "We have held them in contempt. The court's role is to see the mandate of that case, and the mandate of the constitution, carried out. I think it’s unhelpful when branches of government just get into flexing muscle on either side. I think the court is helping foster a dialogue about how to get it done."
They agree but points out that the back and forth seems to less-than-productive.
The SECB doesn't hear any of that kind of urgency when it comes to the $2 billion the state probably needs for education (whose proper funding is, ahem, the state's paramount duty). In fact, we've heard some legislators saying that because the supreme court had the nerve to tell their branch of government what to do, they should ignore the court's order as a way of asserting their independent power.

“I’ve heard a lot of that, too, and I find that juvenile," Justice Stephens told us. "It’s the paramount duty of the state, and they are in continuing violation of the constitution." She noted that as long as this drags on, "No single child has the opportunity to regain the lost constitutionally-required obligation." And, in the meantime, inaction "avoids the essential question, which is how we’re gonna get this done and meet the paramount duty.”
She says no, they are not going to jail anyone but:
Instead, she said, the most common thing other states have done is "enjoined other spending until there’s adequate spending." 

In other words, they shut down the public school system. Shut. It. Down. Because it was a disgrace. And think about it: sending every public school student in a state home at once gets the attention of a lot of people real fast, including lawmakers and the governor.

“I think that’s pretty extreme, too," Justice Stephens said.
 What did Beyonce say in a song once? Uh oh, uh oh, uh oh.

It would be a horrible disruption to shut down schools but frankly, yes I think it would surely get the Legislature's attention.  But another thought - from a comment at the Slog is to shut down the Legislature - take their salaries and employees away for a couple of days.  That, too, is a thought.


Anonymous said...

Melissa, like I commented on FB, It's not Stephens saying "shut down the schools," it's the little brats at the Stranger putting words in her mouth.

Think about it for a second. If education is the state's paramount duty, and if the court determines that the Legislature is violating the Constitution by not funding the schools, how then would any action by the Court to shut down the schools pass Constitutional muster?

It wouldn't, and Stephens knows it. That's why she didn't say it, and why the Stranger was beyond dumb to throw it out there.

-- Ivan Weiss

Anonymous said...

Wow, I love Justice Stephens. Consistently intelligent opinions. I really hope the legislature steps it up this session.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, if you "enjoin the spending," it could effectively shut down the system. I don't think the Stranger was being dumb; just thinking out loud.

Anonymous said...

No, she specifically said "other spending."

-- Ivan Weiss

Patrick said...

But enjoining other spending would mean the court would be trying to determine what other spending the state could do without, a difficult job that really belongs to the Legislature.

Could the court order a special session, not to be adjourned until a budget with ample education money is passed and signed?

Eric B said...

They wouldn't necessarily have to shut down all of the rest of state government. They could just as easily shut down spending on (for the sake of argument) Legislature, Revenue, Licensing, Natural Resources, and Parks. That would be fairly reasonable short-term spending that could be cut without causing public safety issues. It would definitely get the public's attention, though.