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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Justices Weigh Contempt, Sanctions Against State

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

  The Washington Supreme Court has heard the arguments. Now it must decide whether to hold the state in contempt for failing to submit a complete plan to fully fund schools.

The nine justices heard oral arguments Wednesday in a historic hearing that could result in sanctions against the state legislature.

Washington Deputy Solicitor General Alan Copsey admitted the legislature is not in compliance with the Supreme Court. But, he said, “The failure to comply does not demand an order of contempt.”

Tom Ahearne, the attorney representing the coalition that sued the state over school funding, disagreed.

“Call a spade a spade, they’re in contempt,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to say the word ‘contempt.’”

It’s been nearly three years since the Washington Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary case that the state is not amply funding public schools. At the end of the hearing, Justice Mary Yu suggested the state wants special treatment from the court.

“I mean you’re asking for a political accommodation, that’s what you’re asking for,” she said. “So, short of doing nothing, what can this court do?”

Deputy Solicitor General Copsey replied, “Respectfully, what we’re really asking for is a constitutional accommodation to the political branch of government.”

If the justices find the state in contempt, the next question is whether to impose sanctions and how to do that.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."