Grasping for the "Elephant in the Courthouse": Developments in Washington's Law of Law-Making

Kristen L. Fraser



In January of each year, two very different scenes occur in different buildings on the state Capitol Campus. January term begins at the state supreme court. At the Temple of Justice, the judges of the state's highest court file in to hear the first case of the term: stately, solemnly robed, proverbially sober. The docket has been set for months, and the cases duly briefed. After oral arguments, the justices retire to chambers, presumably to discuss the cases. As much as a year later, the court will issue an opinion. To the external observer, at least, the court and its procedures appear measured and orderly, if not exactly nimble or speedy.

On the other side of the Flag Circle, with equal pomp but less organization, legislators gather under the Dome. Senators and representatives rush into their respective chambers, scarves and ties flying, trailed by lobbyists waving brightly colored sponsor sheets and staffers trying to hand off one last memo, bill draft, or briefing document. At the rostrum, papers are flying as a quorum gathers and the presiding officer calls the body to order.

These differing scenes illustrate the different lawmaking processes. The legislative lawmaking process is messy and dynamic. Committee hearings and floor sessions may last until dawn. During legislative cut-offs and the final days of session, legislators and legislative drafters practice a lawyer's version of battlefield medicine, mending and aligning, slapping on bandages such as "the department shall adopt rules to implement this act" or stitching together two bills in an attempt to reconstruct the parts into a workable law.


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