Hope for D.C. Democracy in 2014

As I’m sure you’ve heard, DC Appleseed has been busy in the D.C. courts the last few weeks seeking to ensure that the will of the people to have greater democracy is respected.

First, we’re supporting the D.C. Council’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to require the Mayor and CFO to enforce the Local Budget Autonomy Charter Amendment, which was overwhelmingly ratified by the voters last year. The case will be briefed in July and presumably argued shortly thereafter. Some of the District’s finest law firms are participating pro bono, in support of the new law, and it is hoped that the Court will rule promptly so that the law will apply to the budget that the District will begin preparing this fall.

Second–and most pressing right now–a three-judge panel in the D.C. Court of Appeals heard oral argument last week in Paul Zukerberg’s lawsuit to reinstate the 2014 Attorney General election. The panel appeared sympathetic to the arguments presented by Mr. Zukerberg’s pro bono attorneys from Reed Smith, and by DC Appleseed in our amicus brief by Latham & Watkins. We think the Home Rule Charter requires the first election to happen this year, just as the ballot stated when voters ratified that Charter Amendment by a 3-to-1 margin in the 2010 referendum.

As Mike DeBonis reported in The Washington Post, judges on the panel appeared skeptical of the Attorney General’s lawyer’s arguments and subjected him to sharp questioning. The Attorney General’s office actually maintained that the Court should deem the vote of the people largely irrelevant. But it seems likely the Court will reject that position. DeBonis noted that the judges observed that this argument was “unduly ‘dismissive’ of the electorate’s intent.”

Of course, like with so many efforts to advance D.C. democracy, it’s uncertain whether either of these current efforts will prevail. They’re both now in the hands of the courts.

Given the tenor of last week’s argument, however, it seems likely the Court will order the Council and the Board of Elections to move immediately to schedule the Attorney General election for later this year. In that case, there would be a number of ways for the Council and the Board to put the election back on track. They will have to act promptly–and we trust that they will.

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