A couple weeks ago I criticized a Seattle Times editorial urging the state Supreme Court to force Sound Transit to pay off its bonds and stop collecting the car tabs that I-776 attempted to eliminate. I argued that the Times editorial board was wrong both on policy and on points of law.
But in closing, I also took a swipe at the Times’ penchant for instructing courts how to rule on the law:
The Times has an established history of attempting to influence the courts, but personally, I’ve always felt that judicial decisions should be based purely on statute and the constitution, free from the pressure generated by special interest groups like, you know… editorial boards.
Well, they’re at it again.
In a Sunday editorial the Times chides justices for ruling that property owners are “not entitled to actual individualized notice” of condemnation hearings. The Times admits that “the law is fuzzy on it,” but criticizes the court for siding with Sound Transit:
Notice of the property to be condemned should also have been delivered to the people who own it. “Due process of law” should require no less.
As a policy issue, I cannot argue with the Times’ conclusion. If it were my property being considered for condemnation, I would damn well expect to receive an official notice of the hearing.
But… courts don’t decide policy issues, they decide legal issues… so rather than berating justices for ruling based on the statute, the Times should be urging the Legislature to change it.
And I most emphatically object to the headline the Times affixed to the editorial: “More arbitrary taking of land by the court.”
Arbitrary or no, the court did not take anybody’s land… Sound Transit did. All the court did was rule that Sound Transit acted within the constraints of current law in doing so.
Such a grossly slanted headline is particularly irresponsible in the context of the looming battle over the Farm Bureau’s developer windfall initiative. At the very least, such misleading rhetoric fans the flames of the property rights folk. At its worse, one wonders if the Times is telegraphing an intention to aggressively support the Farm Bureau in its efforts?
I do not blame the Times for being disappointed by the court’s ruling, but reasonable people can disagree over the interpretation of “fuzzy” law. And to use this decision as an opportunity to label the court a bunch of arbitrary land stealers, adds nothing constructive to the public debate… and suggests ulterior motives. If Frank Blethen and his editorial board wish to advocate a particular policy position, they should at least be forthright in doing so.