Washington State Supreme Court visits Bellevue College

Protesters outside the library during the first trial. Photo Courtesy of Bellevue College

The Washington State Supreme Court was visiting Bellevue College on Monday, Nov. 14 and Tuesday, Nov. 15. There was an open forum on Monday and three court cases presented on Tuesday. This visit was part of their cases on the road program to help inform students about how a court case works as well as what kind of interesting court cases are being heard by the Supreme Court. “We used to just find typically local cases,” said Justice Susan Owens. “Justice Gonzalez and I put our heads together and decided priority was going to be what was interesting to our audience.”

During the open forum on Tuesday, justices Steven Gonzalez, Cheryl Gordon McCloud, Susan Owens, Debra Stevens and Mary Yu talked about themselves and their jobs and answered audience questions. “We want you to ask questions because we don’t know what you want to know and that’s why we’re here,” said Owens. The audience asked many questions varying from abortion and the United States presidential election to how they make judgements when competing rights are at play in a case.

One question prompted responses from many of the justices, which asked how public opinion and their own personal opinions effect their decisions in court. Every justice stated that they do not let their own feelings or the feelings of the public get in the way of their decisions. Justice Yu added “really have to stand very clearly in an independent fashion,” given that without that stance, the judicial branch would not work like it’s supposed to. “You come to these positions with a commitment to the law,” she said.

Three court cases were held on Tuesday, with every justice present. The first, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed v. Arlene’s Flowers, was about Baronelle Stutzman, a woman who would not create a flower arrangement for a same-sex couple’s wedding because it was against her religion. The State Supreme Court had to decide whether this qualifies as an act of discrimination on basis of orientation under Washington State Law.

Stutzman’s attorney, Kristen Kelly, said that flowers were a form of free speech and refusing to do the job was a form of religious expression. “It’s undisputed that Mrs. Stutzman would be more than happy to sell pre-arranged flowers, flowers out of the cooler,” she said, going on to state that being involved in the process of customization would be against her religion. Michael Scott, the same-sex couple’s attorney, countered by pointing out that the couple is “expressing their identity, their very status when they seek to order a product or service.” He called Stutzman’s actions discrimination.

The justices had agreed during the forum that this was the most controversial case of the three and most of the media coverage of the justices revolved around this case. It also sprung outrage in the BC community and protestors stood and walked around the courtyard, holding up rainbow-colored umbrellas and signs of support for members of the LGBTQ community.

The second case presented, Cynthia Lee Aiken v. David William Aiken, involved a man who had received a domestic violence protection order from his daughter. The case tested whether the father had a right to question his daughter about this order before not being allowed to see her. Aaron Shields, the father’s counsel, argued that the protection order “was brought without any notice of any kind to Mr. Aiken,” and therefore he should get another chance to have the truth come out while Mark Ferraz, the daughter’s lawyer, said “when there’s domestic violence of any kind, the truth doesn’t always come out.” He stated the daughter shouldn’t be forced into not seeking protection from her father.
The final case was Deborah Peralta v. State of Washington, Washington State Patrol. This case required the justices to decide whether certain evidence should be considered in a case even if the plaintiff admitted being drunk at the time. Michael Lynch argued for the State of Washington that Peralta first admitted she was intoxicated, then denied it, which he said makes her unreliable. Michael Henry Bloom, Peralta’s attorney, argued that she was in her rights to deny intoxication and the new evidence should still be looked at when redeciding her sentence.

The justices listened to all the cases and made comments when they needed clarifications and will need to decide at a later date which side they are going to go with for each case. They assured the audience that they would decide based on the law. “We all have rights under the constitution,” said Justice Stevens. “No state can violate those.”