Retirement Retrospective: Washington Supreme Court Justice Charles K. Wiggins

Inside the Temple of Justice

Tomorrow, Justice Charles K. Wiggins will close out 10 years on the Washington Supreme Court and a decades-long career in appellate law.

Wiggins announced earlier this year that he would retire from the court, effective March 31. (Former Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst also retired earlier this year with Debra Stephens stepping into the chief justice role through the remainder of that term and Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis being appointed as the newest member and first Native American to serve on the court.)

Justice Charles Wiggins

An Eagle Scout, Army military intelligence corps captain, Princeton undergrad and Duke Law School J.D., Wiggins was admitted to the bar in 1976 and went into private practice with a focus on appellate law, arguing before the Washington Supreme Court, State Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court. He was elected to the Washington Supreme Court in 2010 and reelected in 2016 despite a concerted and well-funded effort to oust him.

And as Wiggins whiles away his last days on the bench, we asked him his views on judicial elections, among other things he’s learned as a Supreme Court justice.

Below is part of that interview. But if you want to know more, like how many bowties are in Justice Wiggins’ collection—whatever number you’re thinking, it’s way off—you’ll have to wait for the full transcript in the April/May issue of Washington State Bar News. (And if that’s not enticing enough, in the same issue you can read about when Wiggins helped a Poulsbo lawyer outfit the post-Communist Albanian judges with church choir robes and gavels he negotiated from a Chicago gavel dealer … seriously.)

Your seat was targeted with a fierce opposition campaign in 2016. What did you learn from that experience?

So long as wealth remains so unequally distributed, there will always be the threat that a wealthy individual who is interested in only one issue will overwhelm the election with large expenditures to promote their individual views.

You helped establish Why did you think that was a necessary resource in Washington?

I believe that the average citizen is quite capable of voting intelligently for judges, but generally finds it difficult to learn about judicial candidates. VFJ is an important resource to make it easier for citizens to exercise their right to vote intelligently. It is also extremely well received by members of the public who learn of its existence.

What are the pros and cons of electing Supreme Court justices?

Election pros: This is a democracy and voting for judges is more consistent with democratic values; empowers the people to participate directly in the critical task of selecting a judge; encourages the candidates to walk out of the courthouse and engage more directly with the citizens during an election year; the election process educates judicial candidates about the people they serve and the issues they face.

Election cons: difficult for citizens to take the time and energy to research the candidates and cast an informed vote; citizens often skip the judicial races because they don’t feel they know enough about the candidates, which hands power to special interest groups and to the influence of money in judicial elections.

What is the greatest accomplishment/achievement during your time on the Supreme Court—whether that’s a personal accomplishment and/or accomplishment of the court?

Our greatest accomplishment as a court was to stand firm in the McCleary [v. Washington] case, in which the court found it necessary to hold the Legislature in contempt. We could not have held steady if we had not had the support of the people, who demanded adequately funded schools.

Read the rest of the interview in the April/May Washington State Bar News.