Opinion

‘McCleary’ judge let his biases trump the law

King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick’s incomprehensibly activist attempt last week to bully the state

Legislature into spending more on public education is being hailed as a victory for Washington schools.

Depending on how things shake out, though, it’s potentially a setback for the state’s taxpayers and unquestionably an attack on the Legislature’s lawmaking powers by the judiciary.

Per the Washington State Constitution, education is considered the state’s “paramount” duty and the Legislature is required to make “ample” provision for its funding.

Obviously, however, the language of the statute is impossibly vague, since what seems “ample” to one person could seem wildly extravagant to another. And no doubt the authors of the Constitution worded the provision that way deliberately in order to leave themselves some wiggle room.

This led to a seemingly frivolous lawsuit in 2009 by the McCleary family of Jefferson County and 75 Washington school districts — including South Kitsap — seeking to force the state to quantify its responsibilities with respect to education.

The point is, while fair-minded people can disagree about what constitutes “ample” funding for education, it’s impossible to state definitively one way or the other whether Washington is meeting an intentionally fuzzy standard.

Erlick, putting his biases ahead of his duty to the law, disagreed.

Instead of simply recognizing that you can’t break a law etched in Silly Putty, the judge somehow managed to conclude that current education fundng didn’t live up to his own tortured definition of “ample” and ordered the Legislature to come up with an appropriate formula that did.

In this case, there’s little question the Constitution’s framers failed to set clear guidelines with respect to education funding. But it’s equally clear Erlick overstepped his bounds by apparently concluding the state broke a law too vague to be broken or by declaring something already in the Constitution unconstitutional.

Either way, he was dead wrong.

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