Last justice standing

Are Nevada voters still furious about the travesty of Guinn v. Legislature? We might find out this fall.

In that 2003 decision, perhaps the most politicized and legally unsound ruling ever issued by the Nevada Supreme Court, justices held 6-1 that the Legislature could ignore a voter-approved constitutional amendment which required a two-thirds majority to raise taxes. In other words, when restraints on government power inconvenience big-spending lawmakers, the state constitution can be tossed in the shredder.

The public outrage that followed compelled the Legislature to come up with the necessary two-thirds support anyway to pass the largest tax hike in state history. Legal scholars trashed the decision, which was nothing more than a poor rewrite of a teachers union amicus brief. And the justices who created it became marked men and women.

Justice Deborah Agosti, who wrote the decision, unexpectedly scuttled her re-election campaign after polls showed voters might hold her accountable for the ruling. Justices Miriam Shearing and Robert Rose retired rather than face an angry electorate. In 2006, Justice Nancy Becker took her chances on re-election and was bounced from the court. Justice Myron Leavitt passed away during his term.

Only one of the justices who supported the Guinn v. Legislature debacle remains on the bench. And on Monday, Mark Gibbons filed the paperwork to seek a second term on the high court.

But unlike Ms. Becker, Justice Gibbons has acknowledged that Guinn v. Legislature was a mistake. On more than one occasion, he has expressed regret over his vote. And in 2006, he sided with the majority to reverse the ruling, although that repudiation was used to kill the Tax and Spending Control initiative, another attempt to limit government power.

A cynic might wonder why, if Justice Gibbons believes Guinn v. Legislature was an abomination, he and his colleagues allowed the “retired” Ms. Agosti and Ms. Shearing to be commissioned as senior justices on the court.

We’ll leave such a query for his opponent — if one materializes. Justice Gibbons said he isn’t aware of anyone planning to challenge him in this year’s election.

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