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August 11, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 32
 
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SEAMEC board revokes prior high ratings of two Supreme Court justices in historic action
SEAMEC board revokes prior high ratings of two Supreme Court justices in historic action
"The ratings that were given to [Justice Charles] Johnson and [Justice Barbara] Madsen, basically, are viewed as if they are a friend of the LGBT community. Based on the recent ruling, we can't necessarily believe that they are," said SEAMEC Co-Chair Jeff Koertzen.

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

The Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee's steering committee voted unanimously on Thursday evening to revoke the favorable ratings of two Washington State Supreme Court justices, Justice Charles Johnson and Justice Barbara Madsen, who had voted last month to uphold a state law barring same-sex couples from marriage. The emergency session had been called to review the past ratings of the justices in light of the recent 5-4 decision. Nine member of the committee concurred in the unprecedented decision.

SEAMEC has become one of Seattle's oldest and most respected LGBT and allied organizations. Since its formation in 1977, it has rated hundreds of candidates on issues of importance to the region's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. It's rating sheets are printed in the pages of the Seattle Gay News and distributed throughout the region before most elections.

"My understanding is that one other person has had their ratings revoked in the past, but that was only for that year. It has never been done for prior years," said Jeff Koertzen, co-chair of SEAMEC, interviewed by SGN. "So, this is an unprecedented event. It has never been done before by SEAMEC.

"The ratings that were given to [Justice Charles] Johnson and [Justice Barbara] Madsen, basically, are viewed as if they are a friend of the LGBT community. Based on the recent ruling, we can't necessarily believe that they are. They would have to do a lot of work now to overcome this issue; to get that good of a rating from us in the future."

Madsen, who wrote the lead opinion in the case, Anderson vs. King County, received straight A's in her 2004 interview with SEAMEC. She also received a rating of 4. One interviewer called Madsen "a real friend, ally and advocate."

Justice Charles Johnson, who had signed on to Madsen's opinion to uphold the ban, received one A grade and four B's during his SEAMEC interview in 2002 and even landed a rare endorsement. SEAMEC gave Johnson its highest overall rating of 5, which meant that he was "highly recommended."

However, many on the SEAMEC steering committee joined calls from the LGBT community to revisit their ratings. Madsen had been singled out in particular, because of the apparent contradictions between what she told SEAMEC and her recent ruling, in which she wrote the lead opinion.

In her SEAMEC questionnaire in 2004, which she completed and signed personally, she said she disagreed with the beliefs that "marriage is for the nurturing of children" and that same-sex marriage is a "threat to the institution of marriage and the social fabric of the nation." In her recent majority opinion ruling, however, she wrote that the court "cannot conclude that at this time the people of Washington are entitled to hold an expectation that they may marry a person of the same-sex" and that the Legislature was entitled to believe that "child-rearing in a 'traditional' nuclear family" would "promote and encourage stable families."

She also told SEAMEC in her 2004 questionnaire that she disagreed with the notion that the "civil rights of minorities, and sensitive social issues, should be determined only by a majority vote of the Legislature or the people, rather than the courts." In fact, several interviewers noted that she believed the court had an obligation to protect the rights of minorities. However, she declined to do so in her ruling, saying she did not believe that LGBT people constitute a "suspect class" and, therefore, deserving of additional legal scrutiny when laws seek to limit their rights.

Interestingly, again in 2004, Madsen also said she disagreed with efforts to amend the Constitution to limit marriage to one man and one woman. When asked about civil unions during her interview, several interviewers noted that she believed civil unions were "second class" and do not carry the same benefits as marriage.

According to Koertzen, the two justices in question will be notified by letter of SEAMEC's decision. The letter will request that they refrain from using the name of the organization in their outreach efforts to the LGBT community.

"We wanted to send a strong message to them and the community that we take our ratings very seriously," he said. "I think we have accomplished that by taking the action we took today."

SEAMEC is scheduled to release its ratings for the upcoming September primary races in two weeks. Chief Justice Gary Alexander, who also ruled to uphold the marriage ban, had interviewed with SEAMEC just two days before the decision was handed down. A second justice, who voted to overturn the ban, is also scheduled to interview.

"The ratings and endorsements for the primary will be out in a couple weeks," said Koertzen. "So, at that time, we will be able to tell you the rating of Gary Alexander, who is Chief Justice and one of those who voted against the LGBT community. It will definitely weigh into the decision [about his rating]."

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