Don't know the name Jim Johnson? Perhaps you know his work.
Johnson is the man who declared in 2006, from his perch on the Washington State Supreme Court, that gay marriage should remain illegal in this state because of the "unique and binary biological nature of marriage and its exclusive link with procreation and responsible child rearing." That wasn't all. Johnson's written decision in Anderson v. King County, the 2006 lawsuit that unsuccessfully sought to overturn Washington's Defense of Marriage Act, had more.
"Direct comparisons between opposite-sex homes and same-sex homes," Johnson wrote, "support the former as a better environment for children."
Who is this guy? "He basically is like an ultraconservative legislator sitting on a state bench," said Aaron Ostrom, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Fuse Washington, which is working to defeat Johnson this year.
Because Johnson has only one challenger, Tacoma trial lawyer and former Planned Parenthood board member Stan Rumbaugh, the race will be decided not in the general election but in the August 17 primary.
Rumbaugh is working hard to get out the vote, calling Johnson an "activist justice" who rules mainly for the benefit of his "corporate cronies"—and while that may sound like standard election-year hyperbole, in this case it has more resonance than usual.
Johnson was elected to the state supreme court in 2004, outspending his opponent three to one with the help of over $140,000 in contributions from the conservative Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) and its affiliates. Before that, Johnson worked for Republican Slade Gorton, when Gorton was Washington's attorney general, aiding his legal mentor in fights against the rights of Native American tribes. In the past, Johnson has also worked as a lawyer for Tim Eyman and—wait for it—the BIAW.
Partly in response to the feeling that conservatives had essentially purchased a supreme court justice in the form of Jim Johnson, the state legislature in 2006 set strict limits on how much groups and individuals can donate in supreme court races. Of course, that didn't change the 2004 election result, and in his six years on the bench, Johnson has consistently voted exactly as his benefactors at the BIAW would wish. A review of 18 cases since 2004 in which the BIAW filed amicus briefs with the court shows that Johnson sided with the BIAW position in 17 of those cases—meaning he ruled the way the BIAW was hoping 94 percent of the time. One of the cases had a BIAW member as one of its litigants. Many others involved development debates, the outcome of which the BIAW has a significant interest in. Johnson didn't recuse himself from any of them.
"Nobody is entitled to a sure vote on the supreme court," Rumbaugh said in a recent telephone interview from Eastern Washington, where he was traveling to a series of rural editorial-board meetings at which, he said, Johnson's decision against gay marriage seemed to be getting a lot of positive reaction.
Rumbaugh's strategy at those meetings has been to talk about what the Constitution does and doesn't do. "I don't see anything in the Constitution that says two people of the same sex can't marry," he said. Knowing that may not win over the hinterlands, Rumbaugh's backers are hoping for a big margin of victory in urban areas to counteract Johnson's rural support and overall fundraising advantage. (Even with the new contribution limits, Johnson has raised $77,385.49 compared to Rumbaugh's $43,270.)
Asked to respond to questions from The Stranger, Johnson declined. His spokesperson, Tony Aronica, said he wasn't interested.
This story has been updated since its original publication.