Last year, Shift pointed out that seven of the nine justices on the state Supreme Court received campaign contributions—all for the maximum amount allowed—from the Washington Education Association (WEA). Considering the fate of charter schools hinged on these justices’ ruling on a lawsuit in which the WEA acted as a lead plaintiff, the contributions smelled of a conflict-of-interest then.
Well, given the court’s recent decision to do the WEA’s dirty work and rules the voter-approved charter schools unconstitutional, it’s a smell that even the Seattle Times’ left-leaning Danny Westneat has picked up on.
Westneat writes in a recent column for the Times,
“WEA stands for Washington Education Association, aka the state teachers union. And it turns out that of our nine justices, seven got the maximum financial donations in their past election campaigns from the WEA (either $1,800 or $1,900, depending on the year of the campaign).
“That doesn’t mean the court is doing the teachers-union bidding. But what’s troubling even to me, the son of two teachers, is that the WEA was a named plaintiff in both the charter-school case and the recent McCleary case about overall funding of the public schools. How can it not be a conflict of interest for judges to weigh cases brought by a top campaign backer? …
“Arguably the court’s biggest WEA beneficiary is Justice Susan Owens. The union maxed out to her campaign in 2012 ($1,800), but in 2006 it also gave $50,000 to a PAC that supported her campaign. She sided with the WEA in both the McCleary and charter-school cases.”
Adding to suspicion of the court’s creditability, Westneat points out that four of the justices—Debra Stephens, Mary Yu, Charles Johnson and Mary Fairhurst—received $1,900 from the WEA during their 2014 campaign. In other words, “the donations came after the WEA had filed suit against the charter-school law, and after the case had been appealed to the state Supreme Court.” That means these justices “knew the case was coming, with the WEA as plaintiff, but took their money anyway.”
Three of the four justices ruled in favor of the WEA. The other “wrote the partial dissent that argued charter schools could still be financed out of the state’s general fund.”
Of course, no one can prove that these justices were impacted by the WEA’s contributions. The case could be that the WEA donated to them due to the liberal ideology well demonstrated by the justices. However, the reality that a conflict-of-interest exists cannot be ignored.
As Westneat points out, Charles Wiggins—a justice on the state Supreme Court—argued that his fellow justices should recuse themselves from cases involving their campaign benefactors. That would preserve the integrity of the court by eliminating suspicion.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Rather, Washingtonians—including thousands of parents and children—have been left reeling from a court decision that many cannot help—more than justifiability—view with suspicion.