Washington State Constitution

Updated May 19, 2015.
Prepared by law librarianship intern Melissa Fung; updated by Cheryl Nyberg (2015).

The delegates of the Constitutional Convention of 1889 approved the original text of the Washington State Constitution. It has been amended 98 times, the last time in Nov. 2006. An earlier constitution ratified by citizens of the Territory in 1878 was never officially adopted.

This research guide provides a brief history of the Washington Constitution and the process by which it can be changed. This guide serves as a finding aid to the major publications and archival resources concerning the Washington Constitution, including secondary sources, Constitutional Convention documents, and proposed amendments.

Note: Access to Bloomberg Law, Lexis, and Westlaw is restricted to individual users with passwords/IDs, including University of Washington School of Law students, faculty, and staff. HeinOnline and LexisNexis Academic are UW Restricted databases.

See also the extensive Washington State Constitution: History website with PDF images of contemporary newspaper articles from the date of the Constitutional Convention, dissertations, and other sources on the Constitution's history and interpretation.

Text of the Constitution

The State Constitution and all of its in-force amendments are available in the intial volumes of the following sources:

Revised Code of Washington (RCW)
KFW30 1951 .A2 at Reference Area | Washington Legislature | Bloomberg Law

West's Revised Code of Washington Annotated (RCWA)
KFW30 1961 .B3 at Reference Area | Westlaw

Annotated Revised Code of Washington (ARCW)
KFW30 1994 .A43 at Reference Area | Lexis | LexisNexis Academic

A Brief History

In 1876, citizens of the Territory voted to apply for statehood. In 1877, Orange Jacobs, Washington’s Delegate to Congress, requested an enabling act that would allow Washington to become a state as soon as a state constitution was drafted and ratified by the voters. In 1878, fifteen delegates met in Walla Walla for Washington’s first Constitutional Convention.

In November 1878, voters overwhelmingly approved the proposed constitution. The new “Constitution of the State of Washington” was sent to Congress along with a memorial requesting Statehood for Washington. Even though Washington’s representatives heavily lobbied for admission, the U.S. Congress failed to act on the proposed Constitution. Still, the 1878 Constitution is an important historical document that shows the political thinking of the time. It was used extensively during the drafting of Washington State’s 1889 Constitution. Sources

The second Constitutional Convention met in Olympia from July 4 through August 22, 1889. Seventy-five delegates helped draft the constitution. The people of Washington ratified the 1889 constitution on October 1, 1889. President Harrison issued a proclamation admitting Washington to the Union on November 11, 1889. 26 Stat. Proclamation, p.10. [HeinOnline]


Cases Interpreting the Washington Constitution

West’s Revised Code of Washington Annotated (RCWA)
Cites to appellate court cases and Attorney General opinions that interpret the Constitution. Also refers to relevant Corpus Juris Secundum entries (CJS), law review articles, and other West publications.
KFW30 1961 .B3 at Reference Area | Westlaw

Annotated Revised Code of Washington (ARCW)
Cites to appellate court cases and Attorney General opinions that interpret the Constitution. Also refers to relevant American Law Reports annotations (ALR) and law review articles.
KFW30 1994 .A43 at Reference Area | Lexis

Washington Practice, 35+ vols.
An encyclopedia of Washington State law, arranged by subject. To find cases and other references to the State Constitution, see Constitutional Law in the General Index at the end of the set. Many cases also appear in sections found under other topics in the Index, such as Civil Rights, Discrimination, and Searches and Seizures.
KFW80 .W3 1989 at Reference Area | Westlaw

West's Washington Digest 2d.
Abstracts appellate court opinions discussing the Constitution. Indexes opinions by subject and gives a brief summary of the law of the case. Like Washington Practice, the general subject is Constitutional Law but cases are also indexed under other topics.
KFW57 .W47 1988 at Reference Area

You can also use a citator to identify cases on specific provisions.

  • Lexis: Shepards (format: Wash. Const. art. 23 sec. 1)
  • LexisNexis Academic: Shepards
  • Westlaw: Keycite (format: WA CONST art 1 s 1)


Reference GuidesWashington State Constitution

Robert F. Utter & Hugh D. Spitzer, The Washington State Constitution, 2d ed.
Presents an overview of Washington State constitutional history and analyzes the constitution, section by section.
KFW401 1889.A6 U95 2013 at Reference Area & Reference Office | e-book [UW Restricted]

Ann Hemmens & Cheryl Nyberg, "Washington Territorial Legal Materials," in Prestatehood Legal Materials: A Fifty-State Research Guide.
KF240.P688 2005 at Reference Office

Cheryl Nyberg & Ann Hemmens, "Historical and Archival Sources," in Washington Legal Researcher's Deskbook 3d.
Covers constitutions and constitutional conventions.
KFW75.W37 2002 at Reference Area & Reference Office


Books & Articles

To find books, search the Gallagher Law Library catalog by the following subject headings:

  • Washington (State). Constitution
  • Constitutional law -- Washington (State)

To find law review articles:

  • consult one of the annotated Washington statutory codes (the Annotated Revised Code of Washington or West's Revised Code of Washington Annotated)
  • conduct a KeyCite or Shepard's search and limit the results to law review article citations
  • search LegalTrac, an index to law review articles (1980-date)
  • search the journals and law review databases on Lexis, LexisNexis Academic, and Westlaw


Previous Constitutions

1878 Constitution

State Constitution Proposed at Constitutional Convention in Walla Walla 1878 (Congress Failed to Ratify).
KFW401 1878 .A4 at Reference Area

Washington’s First Constitution, 1878 and Proceedings of the Convention (Edmond S. Meany & John T. Condon, eds.)
JK9225 1878 .A54 at Classified Stacks

1878 State Constitution, November 5, 1878. Washington State Digital Archives

1889 Constitution

Rules of the Constitutional Convention of the Territory of Washington.
KFW400.W38 1889 at Classified Stacks

The Journal of the Washington State Constitutional Convention 1889, with Analytical Index. (Beverly Paulik Rosenow, ed.)
KFW401 1889 .A223 1999 at Reference Area | online

Washington State Constitutional Convention 1889: Contemporary Newspaper Articles.
KFW401 1889 .A224 1999 at Reference Area

Washington State Constitutional Convention Journal, 1889, Working Papers. (Beverly Paulik Rosenow, ed.) 4 vols.
KFW401 1889 .A22 at Special Collections / Rare Books (ask for assistance at the Circulation Desk)

The Washington State Constitution--Ratified by the Voters, October 1, 1889. Washington State Digital Archives

James Leonard Fitts, The Washington Constitutional Convention of 1889. (University of Washington Thesis (M.A.) 1951) Based largely on contemporary newspaper accounts, this thesis describes the convention delegates and politics.
KFW401 1889.A29 F5 1951a at Reference Area | online 

Wilfred Jay Airey, A History of the Constitution and Government of Washington Territory (University of Washington Thesis (Ph.D) 1945)
KFW401.5.A57 1945 at Reference Area | online

Arthur S. Beardsley, Notes on the Sources of the Constitution of the State of Washington, 1889-1939.
KFW401 1889.B43 1939 at Reference Area

Lebbeus J. Knapp, The Origin of the Constitution of the State of Washington. Washington Secretary of State website

Washington Secretary of State, Washington State Constitution. A hand-written copy of the original Constitution.

See also the Gallagher guide on the Washington State Constitution: History.


Amending the Constitution

The State Constitution has been amended 83 times since its inception. Article XXIII, Section 1 addresses the process of amending the Constitution and Section 2 deals with constitutional conventions.

Amendments may be proposed in either branch of the legislature. The Legislature must approve the original proposal or an alternative to the proposed initiative with a 2/3 vote. The approved proposal is then placed on the ballot at the next state general election, and becomes law if approved by a majority of the electors. The state constitution may not be amended by voter initiative.

An Index of Initiative and Referenda (1914-date) is available on the Washington Secretary of State’s website. Voters' pamphlets from elections also contain summaries of proposed constitutional amendments.


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