OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday signed Senate Bill 5087 into law. The legislation, requested by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, repeals a number of unconstitutional state laws, including Washington’s invalid death penalty statute.
The legislation removes numerous invalid and unconstitutional statutes that remain on the books, based on an analysis done by the Washington Supreme Court. In addition to the death penalty, those statutes include laws allowing judges to order people sterilized and requirements that public employees sign anti-communist pledges. Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, sponsored the companion bill in the House.
Ferguson has proposed legislation to remove Washington’s death penalty from state law every session since 2017. In 2018, the Washington Supreme Court found the state’s method of applying the death penalty unconstitutional as a result of its arbitrary and racially biased application.
“The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that Washington’s death penalty is invalid because it’s applied in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” Ferguson said. “On Friday the Legislature took the important and appropriate step of repealing the death penalty from our state statutes once and for all. Thank you to Senator Pedersen for his leadership.”
“Removing the death penalty and other laws struck down by the courts from our statute books both helps regular people understand what the law is and also makes a profound statement of our values,” Pedersen said.
The Washington Constitution requires the state Supreme Court to advise the governor of any “defects and omissions in the laws” judges have determined to exist as a result of legal challenges. In a recent “defects & omissions” report, Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez listed 30 statutes that are unconstitutional and need to be stricken from the books, including the state’s death penalty statute.
On Oct. 11, 2018, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that Washington’s use of the death penalty was “racially biased,” “arbitrary,” and “lacks ‘fundamental fairness.’ ” A study submitted to the court showed black defendants were four times as likely as white defendants to be sentenced to death. The court unanimously found that Washington’s use of the death penalty is unconstitutional.
As a result, the sentences of everyone on death row at the time in Washington state were converted to life without the possibility of parole.
In addition to the state’s invalid death penalty statute, SB 5087 also removes other unconstitutional laws, including, for example:
- Forced sterilization. RCW 9.92.100 allows a judge to order certain people sterilized. This is unconscionable and at least questionable under Skinner v. Oklahoma.
- Loyalty oaths. RCW 9.81.070 required public employees to sign loyalty oaths attesting that they are not communists and do not belong to subversive organizations. The United States Supreme Court ruled this unconstitutional in Baggett v. Bullitt.
- Disclosure of private financial records. RCW 21.20.380 authorized administrative subpoenas of customer banking records from financial institutions without notice to the customer. The court ruled this violates Article I, Section 7 of the state constitution in State v. Miles.