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Friday, February 3, 2006

The Chief Justice Speaks (Again)

Posted by on February 3 at 15:45 PM

On Jan. 12, the chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court, Gerry Alexander, caused a stir by telling the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he and his colleagues hoped to have a ruling on the state’s landmark gay marriage case before the end of the legislative session in March.

It’s highly unusual for any justice, let alone the chief justice, to speak about a pending case, and so Alexander’s comment both shocked court watchers and left them parsing his words for clues about which way the court might be leaning on gay marriage.

The P-I has since corrected its reporting of Alexander’s statement, casting the chief justice’s hope as his alone, and not that of his colleagues.

That’s because, as Alexander told me a short while ago in his huge office in the Temple of Justice in Olympia, he recently called the paper and asked for a correction.

“I remember exactly what I said,” Alexander told me, emphasizing that he did not bring up the subject of the marriage case with P-I reporter Chris McGann, whom Alexander had approached wanting to discuss his campaign for reelection this November. It was McGann who raised the issue of the marriage decision, and in response, Alexander told me, “I said the court is aware of the intense interest in this case, and we’re endeavoring to get [a decision] out as promptly as possible.”

And then, in an “unguarded moment” that he now “really” regrets, Alexander says he also told McGann: “I’m hoping we can get it out before the legislature adjourns.”

But what was never said, according to Alexander, was that the entire court shared his hope. “I can’t make a promise like that,” he told me.

Nevertheless, his comment didn’t sit well with fellow justices. “A couple of them wished I hadn’t said that,” Alexander told me. “Including myself.”

And the chagrined chief justice now wants all the people who are watching his words closely to know: “There was no hidden message.”

Which perhaps takes those tensely awaiting the gay marriage ruling back to where they were before the P-I first reported Alexander’s comments on Jan. 12: No clue which way the court will rule, and no clue when, either.

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