No winner or loser today (because Jolt isn't a lawyer and can't predict how the Supreme Court will rule on the pending two-thirds case). But if we were Tim Eyman or a member of the GOP minority in the legislature that's been able to thwart new taxes, we'd be nervous about the implications of a ruling that came down this morning in a case called Parker v. Wyman.
In a 9-0 decision written by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen today, the court ruled that recently elected Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Schaller can serve on the court even though she lives in Pierce County (Tacoma to be exact).
What does the case have to do with the two-thirds rule? Schaller's candidacy was challenged because of state statute that says that no person can hold an elective office within a county unless that person lives there.
Certainly, that seems to disqualify Schaller.
But in shooting down the claim, the court cited the constitutional requirements for being a judge, noting: "the Washington Constitution articulates no qualification for superior court judge but admission to practice before the state courts of record." In other words, the constitution doesn't say a superior court judge has to live in the county in which she serves.
And then, citing a previous state Supreme Court known as Gerbeding—which found a voter-approved term limits measure unconstitutional because it added requirements to elected office that weren't expressed in the Constitution, Madsen concluded: "And it follows from the Gerberding rule that no subsequent legislation could impose such a requirement, since it is not expressed in the constitution."
In short, statute cannot trump the constitution by adding on new requirements.
This mimics the argument that liberals made in the court earlier this year against the two-thirds rule, which requires a two-thirds majority of the legislature to raise taxes. They relied heavily on Gerbeding to say that the constitution sets the standard and voters can't set new ones.
In other words, regarding the two-thirds standard, they pointed out that Article 2, Section 22 of the state constitution—which says bills must be passed by a majority vote—sets a ceiling (or fixed definition), rather than a floor.
"We believe that the decision further supports our case that the Legislature cannot add to the constitutional majority vote requirement for passage of laws."
Again, Jolt is no lawyer, but Paul Lawrence, the liberal attorney who argued the case in the Supreme Court for the crew of education groups and Olympia Democrats that brought it with the goal of finding new revenue for education, told us:
“Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the state legislature could not by statute add to the constitutional qualifications for election of a Superior Court Judge. The court relied on a prior decision, Gerberding, that held the legislature could not impose term limits on state officers.
"It was the principal case we relied upon in the two-thirds litigation. We believe that the decision further supports our case that the legislature cannot add to the constitutional majority vote requirement for passage of laws.”
We've asked Eyman what he thinks of today's ruling, and he didn't sound worried. Referring to earlier legal challenges to the two-thirds rule, such as a 2009 case brought by Democratic state senator, and then-majority leader, Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane), he told Jolt: "A unanimous state supreme court rejected a lawsuit just like this one just two years ago."
He's right. But Brown's case was tossed because the Supreme Court believed she didn't have standing.
While proponents of the two-thirds rule argued the same procedural point this time around (the issue is called "justiciability" and King County Superior Court ruled against them in May), the Supreme Court justices took up the substantive issues—ones very similar to today's ruling.
Eyman doesn't buy it, and pointed to something he'd written after King County ruled against him and the case headed on to the Supreme Court.
"It is simply inconceivable that the founders of our state and authors of our Constitution - people who were deeply committed to limiting the power of government - intended to prohibit the Legislature and the people from making it tougher to raise taxes. It's silly to argue otherwise as these Democrat politicians and special interest groups are attempting to do. Our Constitution exists to protect the people from the government, not to protect the government from the people."