On 10-18-12 our WA. State Supreme Ct. heard Christine Schaller’s case:
Ignoring residency mandates?
Shawn Newman and Talmadge were defenders of Thurston County Superior Court Commissioner Christine Schaller and her proposition that because the State Constitution is silent on residency requirements, it effectively moots a current State Statute mandating a Superior Court judge (or any State elected official, for that matter) be a resident of the jurisdiction for which they will seek office. It also requires they be a U.S. Citizen. If Mr. Talmadge and Mr. Newman were to prevail, presumably the requirement for citizenship might be struck down as well since our State Constitution only requires judges to have been admitted to the State bar. Our courts have already ruled foreign nationals can be admitted to practice law in Washington State.
(1/2) State Supreme Ct. hears Christine Schaller case:
Ignoring residency mandate?
(2/2) State Supreme Ct. hears Christine Schaller case:
Ignoring residency mandate?
When Mr. Newman was asked what would prevent residents from as far away as Oregon or even Canada from holding judicial office in Washington, were he to prevail, he opined, “The voters.” It’s a seductive argument, Plus there’s the Hatfield case which, on its face, appears to prohibit any appeal beyond a State Superior Court ruling on election/ballot disputes. The justices, however, quickly disposed of that red herring as they reminded Schaller’s attorneys that the Hatfield case only addressed the simpler issues such as alleged voter fraud, etc. It never stood for the proposition that the appellate/Supreme Court should ever be divested of their inherent power to review erroneous lower court interpretations of law, particularly where the lower court’s ruling would make an existing State statute virtually unconstitutional/unenforceable in all but name only. The justices appeared unimpressed with the argument advanced by Schaller’s defenders.
The reporters considered opinion is Schaller will lose by a narrow majority of the Court, not because they don’t respect her hard work and competence, but because a far larger question is buried in the politics of this case…a bigger question than Schaller’s candidacy, or indeed of judicial elections in Washington State. The core question hidden among all the rhetoric as a matter of Constitutional interpretation in this case is simply: Does the State Constitution’s silence on a point/requirement moot any/all future exercise of the State’s/People’s plenary power to pass subsequent laws addressing what was not mentioned in our State Constitution?
Clearly voters and their elected officials wish public officials to reside in the community where they hold office. Does Washington State’s Constitution prevent its citizens from imposing such a requirement (et ux) simply for want of a Constitutional provision saying so?
This case is even more about what plenary powers are reserved to the people and their elected officials than it is about Christine Schaller–or any other judge or judicial office seeker.
What’s troubling, in addition to the above question, is Schaller’s, by all accounts, hard work, competence, and experience. Some retort they’re offended by Schaller brazenly ignoring an existing State law requiring residency. These critics argue Schaller’s actions hold the Courts up to public contempt for failure to provide the appearance of fairness or even abiding by the very laws and rules they enforce. Whether voter opprobrium is a sufficient deterrent to such abuse remains an open question, at least until Nov. 2. At that point (given one Justice’s dicta) Schaller might moot the dispute by simply taking up residence in Thurston County before being sworn in. However, the larger conundrum (Does the Constitution’s silence on an issue bar future laws remedying the problem) would remain like a dormant landmine after the war. For important public policy considerations, the State Supreme Court should address this question in its published opinion.