Robert F. Utter and Hugh D. Spitzer, The Washington State Constitution, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 2013, 309 pages, inclusive of index, Hardcover, $150.00, ISBN 978-0-19-994616-7.
With its latest publication on the Washington State Constitution, the Oxford Commentaries on the States Constitutions of the United States adds to its massive collection that is almost complete with commentaries on forty-six of the fifty states. Each Commentary combs through each section of a state’s constitution and offers historical background, case citations, and much more in an effort to provide the reader a greater understanding of a state’s constitution.
Robert Utter and Hugh Spitzer, the authors of the commentary on the Washington State Constitution, begin with an excellent historical background of the drafting of the Washington State Constitution. Beginning with the history of the document proved highly beneficial to this reader who had no prior knowledge in this area. The authors successfully describe the time and place in which the state constitution was drafted which made it easier to understand, when reading through later chapters, exactly why a certain provision was included in the document.
Describing the Washington State Constitution as a “responsive political document,” the authors write that it was drafted to respond to numerous movements that were taking place at the time. The Populist Movement was reaching a fever pitch and was the dominant thought at the time. The settlers of the area had cut off ties with their family and former way of life and had immigrated to the Pacific Northwest to seek new fortune. The public distrusted the big corporations of the day in the railroad and mining fields, distrusted the numerous special interests trying to exert control over the state, and distrusted the notion that power should be concentrated in a small group. This distrust among the citizens and drafters of the state constitution led to the creation of a document that imposed numerous restrictions on the state legislature, divided executive authority among numerous elected officials rather than just a governor, restricted the activities of corporations, and provided strong protection of individual liberties.
Utter and Spitzer also include in their Commentary a discussion on how the state constitution has been dealt with by the Washington judiciary. Prior to the 1940s, the state courts actively interpreted and applied the state’s constitution. However, once the federal Bill or Rights began to be incorporated against the several states by the United States Supreme Court a shift occurred whereby a greater reliance on the Bill of Rights and United States Supreme Court was had in the state court system. By the 1980s, state courts such as Washington’s were more willing to diverge from the United States Supreme Court and rely on sections of the state constitution to settle a dispute. Perhaps the greatest example of this pendulum swing, and a great example of the best feature of this Commentary, is the authors’ discussion on Article 1, Section 7 of the Washington State Constitution. This provision states that “no person shall be disturbed in his private affairs or his home invaded, without authority of law.” The authors trace a time line for the readers of what the drafters desired to include in this provision in 1889 to the 1970s when the state Supreme Court began disagreeing with its federal counterpart in extending greater protection to its citizens than the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution would have provided. This focus on history and detail is perhaps the greatest feature of this Commentary. Utter and Spitzer provide in depth analysis on the topic with historical insights and case law analysis.
Each Article of the State Constitution receives its own chapter with a word-for-word direct quote of the section. Following the text of each Article is historical data such as the date of its adoption and ratification which is then followed by the authors’ historical analysis of the provision with an emphasis on case law interpreting said provision. A great Table of Cases and Index are provided in the back of the book to make it easier to locate specific items a reader might be interested in locating. This title is a great resource to have in an academic law library's legal history section.
Stephen Parks is the Research, Instructional Services, and Circulation Librarian at the Mississippi College Law Library.