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The Judicial Branch WA

There are a couple of ways the courts interact with legislation.


Disputes

When a law is passed, there will inevitably be a dispute about it. Not every circumstance is accounted for in law. Every possible scenario cannot be anticipated, and sometimes the statute itself is not clearly defined. At some point two parties will be at odds, and the issue will need to go to court. The vast majority of the decisions have to do with interpreting the law. Words like “reasonable” may have to be interpreted or an inexact rule that has been implemented. The courts must interpret the legislation in a way that applies to the particular case before them. A small number of these types of cases will have to do with constitutionality – a decision about whether a person has been deprived of some right or another.


Declaratory Judgements

This is another type of decision made by the courts. Most of the time, when we think of taking a case to court, it is because alleged damage has occurred. In a declaratory action, on the other hand, a case is brought before the court  prior to the damaging act. For example, the Democrat Majority created a Capital Gains Income Tax during the 2021 Legislative Session. That law was immediately challenged in court, because the plaintiffs believed the law was unconstitutional. That case is considered Declaratory, because no damage (tax) has actually taken place yet. The basis for that type of court case is found in RCW 7.24.


The overarching principle in play here is that the courts have the power to declare a law unconstitutional. That was decided in 1803 in the case of Marbury vs Madison. That case established the principle of judicial review, i.e., the power to declare a law unconstitutional. 


Judicial Activism vs. Judicial Restraint

One thing to keep in mind is that judges hold differing views on how their judgments should be rendered. You have likely heard the view that the Constitution should be treated as a “living and breathing document,” a view held by many activist judges - and those are the judges that are usually appointed by Democrats. A liberal judge will often legislate from the bench, making judgements, not on what the intent of the law or the constitutionality is, but rather their judgements are based on what the way they think things ought to be. That is not their job - that’s the job of the Legislature.


 Republicans tend to appoint judges that are constructionists and believe in exercising judicial restraint, adhering to the literal meaning of the Constitution. Right now, in WA State, we have 205 judges in the Superior Court, Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. Of those 205 judges and justices, over 111 have been appointed by Governor Inslee. That means we have a very liberal court here in WA State. It likely doesn’t surprise anyone reading this, but it is a point worth mentioning. A Republican Governor would be a blessing in our court system.


Of course, there is a lot more to the Judicial Branch – that’s why it takes years to obtain a law degree - but this is a simple overview that gives you an idea of how the courts interact with the laws passed by the Legislature.


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