Complaining about elected officials is a cherished national pastime, but very few people take matters into their own hands and run for office.
Among those to throw a hat in the ring for Washington State Supreme Court this year was Gonzaga Law School’s own David DeWolf, JD.
DeWolf taught at Gonzaga Law School for 28 years before becoming a professor emeritus this year. He résumé includes authorship of a widely used treatise on tort law, several years as an attorney for the Spokane firm Lukins & Annis, and Gonzaga Law course offerings focused on his expertise in constitutional law and torts. Notably absent is experience as a trial judge. Undeterred, he ran against the incumbent, Justice Mary Yu, for Washington State Supreme Court Justice Position 1 in November.
The primary motivation for his foray into public service was his disagreement with the McCleary case.
“If the Legislature is not adequately funding education,” he said, “the cure … is to get a new Legislature, not for the court to step in and dictate what an adequate education looks like and force the people of Washington to pay for it.”
The court’s decision that the language of the state constitution implies a constitutional right to fully funded education and the justices’ subsequent mandate that the Legislature be fined $100,000 per day, a fee that is still accruing, drew criticism. DeWolf argues that the decision amounts to judicial activism.
“This is really stretching the authority of the court beyond what the people thought they were creating in the constitution,” DeWolf said. “The court should have declined the invitation to play super school board.”
Despite his best efforts, DeWolf lost to Yu roughly 57 percent to 43 percent, according to Ballotopedia. While Yu’s popularity and long record of service in King County proved insurmountable, DeWolf captured every county east of the Cascades and did particularly well in Spokane, where he earned 57 percent of the vote.
He credits the Gonzaga name with his success. Although he lost the race, he believes people should stand up for their principles. He has garnered a reputation for doing so at Gonzaga.
After converting to Roman Catholicism in 1988 — well into his tenure at Gonzaga Law — he became notorious for defending the Catholic church’s teachings in efforts to maintain Gonzaga’s Catholic mission.
“Where is the law school defending the cause of life?” he asked. “Are we defending unborn children?”
He also believes that Jesuit law schools have inadequately defended heterosexual marriage.
“Now you can disagree with that,” he said. “The church has a very clear teaching on the nature of marriage but we ignore that. We’ve adopted the same view that [the University of Washington] or any other institution would take.”
A private law school is not beholden to the same restraints on activism that supreme courts are and DeWolf thinks Gonzaga should honor its Jesuit tradition by preparing students to defend Catholic doctrine under the auspices of religious freedom.
DeWolf stays true to his values and is not concerned about disagreeing with others.
“I like a good fight,” he said.
He also has advice for young people who want to fight for a cause.
“Follow Saint Ignatius,” DeWolf recommends. “If you want to do great things in life, if you want to stand up for the right thing, you really have to spend the time, just as an athlete spends the time, to prepare to compete. You have to spend the time to prepare yourself spiritually to recognize your own limitations, your own weaknesses, your own woundedness … and begin to take advantage of those resources that protect you and surround yourself with people that are genuinely interested in your spiritual well-being.”