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Originally published Saturday, September 27, 2014 at 4:04 PM

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Editorial: For Supreme Court, incumbents get The Times’ recommendation — Mary Yu, Mary Fairhurst, Charles Johnson and Debra Stephens

The Seattle Times editorial board recommends incumbents Mary Yu, Mary Fairhurst, Charles Johnson and Debra Stephens for state Supreme Court. Voters would have been better served by stronger challengers.

Seattle Times Editorial

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With the McCleary decision and the courts attempt to take over the role of the legislature its time to clean house. ... MORE
"every member is a competent and respected jurist." The Editorial Board is setting the bar 1cm above the dirt with that... MORE
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THIS should have been a contentious year for state Supreme Court elections with robust campaign debate about judicial philosophies and separation of powers. Among them is the court’s confrontation with the Legislature over school funding and its decision this month to hold the state in contempt.

Yet the four incumbent justices on the ballot drew no serious challengers. The Times recommends all four because no one is mounting a bona fide campaign against them.

This is not a slap at the court — every member is a competent and respected jurist. But voters would have been better served with challengers raising questions about the court’s direction. Such questions are especially legitimate this year, as the court’s position in the McCleary v. State of Washington school-finance case encroaches on the Legislature’s decision-making authority and threatens a constitutional crisis.

For Position 1, The Times recommends Mary Yu, the former King County Superior Court judge who was appointed this spring to the seat vacated by the retiring Jim Johnson. She is unopposed.

For Position 3, The Times recommends Mary Fairhurst, who has served since 2002. Fairhurst also is unopposed.

For Position 4, The Times recommends Charles Johnson, the longest-serving member of the court, who is perhaps best known for the upset of an incumbent in 1990. Johnson has since proven himself able. This year, he is challenged by Korean-American attorney Eddie Yoon, who has raised no money and does not appear to be mounting an active campaign.

For Position 7, The Times recommends Debra Stephens, a Spokane native and the only member from Eastern Washington. Her penetrating questions are a highlight of court hearings since her appointment in 2008. She is challenged by John “Zamboni” Scannell, who, as a disbarred attorney, may be ineligible to serve if elected.

Normally, there isn’t much to talk about in a Supreme Court race because the court’s decisions are collaborative and candidates can’t talk about specific cases that might come before them. This election is different. Recent high-profile rulings should make Washington uneasy, as the court eases restrictions on state authority and gives itself unprecedented authority to dictate government actions.

In 2012, for example, the court threw out the two-thirds-for-taxes rule, wildly popular with voters, which made it harder for the Legislature to vote for tax hikes. Another decision made it easy for the Legislature to divert gas taxes to the general fund, easing constitutional restrictions approved by voters in 1944. Last year, the court allowed the governor’s office to claim executive privilege in withholding documents from public-records requests.

Most worrisome is the court’s recent action in the McCleary case. In 2012, it ruled, quite reasonably, that the state was underfunding basic education. Since then, lawmakers have met every deadline suggested by that decision, yet an impatient court decided legislators weren’t moving fast enough and demanded they essentially write a budget years in advance.

The Legislature balked, the court held the state in contempt, and while the justices wisely delayed sanctions, there is no telling whether they will be satisfied by reasonable movement during the 2015 legislative session. At a hearing this month, Justice Charles Johnson suggested, perhaps hypothetically, that the court could wipe every business -tax incentive and preferential rate off the books.

Such a decision would have dire consequences for the Washington economy — precisely the sort of issue that should be raised in a campaign. When should the court restrain itself? Too bad no challengers are asking the question.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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