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Senate Panel Aims for East-West Parity in Judicial Elections

The lone representative from eastern Washington on the state's high court doesn't think much of divvying up Supreme Court candidates by geography, rather than state-wide. Justice Debra Stephens of Spokane pleaded in vain with the Senate law and justice committee not to tinker with the state constitution.

The GOP majority of the committee, led by Spokane Valley Senator Mike Padden, wants to require high court justices to go through primary elections in judicial districts now set up for state court of appeals jurisdiction. Under the plan, counties east of the Cascades would have two supreme court judges elected from among the top four finishers in primary races.

Padden and three other Republican senators believe it would more closely tie judicial candidates to their electorate, encourage philosophical diversity and cost less than state-wide races.

But Justice Stephens, a resident of Spokane, disagreed. She told lawmakers that living in Spokane but working in Olympia is not feasible, and that diversity of philosophy does not depend on geography.

Stephens might have pointed out - but did not - that one of eastern Washington's top law schools might exert more influence than candidates' residency. Gonzaga law school has produced three of the nine justices now on the supreme court, more than any other university.

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