Conclusion of Wn.2d and Beginning of Wn.3d

Rob Mead, State Law Librarian

Legal publishing in Washington turned to a new chapter on April 18, 2023 with the publication of the first volume of Washington Reports, Third Series. The first case in the new series is Wash. Food Indus. Ass’n v. City of Seattle, 1 Wn.3d 1 (2023), a plurality decision filed February 9, 2023. It took 84 years to reach the 200th volume of Wn.2d and start a third series. Other reporters have different schedules, such as the Federal Reporter having 1000 volumes in a series. It only took 27 years to complete F.3d, from 1994 to 2021! Sam Thompson, the Supreme Court’s Reporter of Decisions, explains why Washington Reports has 200 volume series:

Why are official reports series—Wash., Wn.2d, and Wn. App.—capped at 200 volumes? Therein lies a tale. At statehood in 1889, Bancroft-Whitney, a San Francisco firm, won the contract to publish and distribute official reports for the new Washington Supreme Court. The court thereby granted Bancroft-Whitney a license to produce and distribute volumes containing its decisions. The court benefitted from the company’s professional publishing standards and sophisticated marketing ability. Bancroft-Whitney benefitted from profits from sales of official Washington Reports.  The first decision in the new Washington Reports series was filed in January 1890, two months after Washington was admitted to the union. Forty-nine years later, after filing thousands of opinions, the court neared a milestone: closing out volume 200. At that point, Bancroft Whitney—still the contract publisher—suggested an innovation: it proposed a new, second series of official reports. The company contended that starting a new series would help in marketing official Washington Reports. (Leading to wider distribution of Washington case law and—incidentally—increasing the company’s profits.) The court agreed. The first decision in the new second series was filed in October 1939. Thus, a convention was established: Washington official reports series are capped at 200 volumes. Accordingly, the first series of Washington Appellate Reports, created after the Washington Court of Appeals was established in 1969, closed in 2017 with volume 200. A new second series began with a decision filed in October 2017.

In our digital age, publication of print reporters may seem anachronistic. As a librarian, I assure you that it is not. Books have stood the test of time, Codex Sinaiticus (Sinai Bible) dating to somewhere between 330 and 360 CE and the Book of Kells to around 800 CE. None of our digital resources have that sort of permanence against catastrophe. Print resources are fixed but digital copies contain added transcription errors. For that reason, the Reporter of Decisions office checks every citation and quotation in every published Supreme Court or Court of Appeals decision against print reports. We are thrilled that our publishing partner, now Lexis Nexis (RELX) continues to publish print reporters for the appellate courts.