It’s Time at Last to Elect D.C.’s Attorney General

On April 1, D.C. voters elected nominees to several key citywide offices. But one position was left off the ballot: the Attorney General.

This was because the D.C. Council voted 7-6 last fall to postpone the first Attorney General election until at least 2018. The Council did this even though the voters decided through a November 2010 referendum that the election would be this year. This postponement went against the advice of the Council’s own General Counsel, who said it was illegal, and against the advice of Attorney General Irv Nathan, who said that while the delay might be legally permissible, it would dash the people’s justifiable expectations to have the election in 2014.

Fortunately, there’s still time to get the election back on track for later this year. There are two ways this could happen.

The Council could pass a bill restoring the election to 2014. In fact, a measure doing exactly that is scheduled for first reading at tomorrow’s legislative meeting. Under that measure, the election would be in November and would be identical to a partisan special election, with candidates gathering signatures to get on the ballot and run as party members if they choose.

Or the Council could wait for the D.C. Court of Appeals to order the Council to take steps to comply with the Charter Amendment passed by the voters in 2010. That could happen if Paul Zukerberg prevails in his lawsuit against the city. Over the objection of the Attorney General, the Court has scheduled expedited review of Mr. Zukerberg’s lawsuit and will hear argument on May 29. Last week we filed an amicus brief in that case, along with DC Vote and several other organizations and individuals, urging the Court to immediately restore the 2014 election.

We think the Council passing a bill now is the right solution. It would allow the Council to determine for itself how to conduct the election, rather than having the Court tell the Council how to do it. And it would be better for the Council’s integrity and institutional authority to avoid having the Court overturn its law and admonish it for overriding the will of the voters.

A Council decision putting the election back on track is clearly the right thing to do now, especially since the three justifications offered earlier for the postponement are no longer valid–even if they were valid at the time.

It was said that the Council should delay because the Council was working out the duties of the Attorney General. But it’s been more than six months since the Council adopted Mr. Nathan’s recommendations and settled the duties of the office.

It was also said that candidates had not yet announced for the office. But candidates will undoubtedly emerge once the Council ends the uncertainty it has created over whether there will be an election.

And it was finally said that maybe electing the Attorney General is not such a good idea after all. But the people of the District have decided it is a good idea, and Councilmembers are not permitted to override a Charter Amendment once it’s ratified into law by the voters.

It’s time for the Council to respect the voters’ decision and let the people elect their Attorney General.

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