Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

BREAKING: Supreme Court refuses to rule on constitutionality of Initiative 960

Minutes ago, the State Supreme Court finally released a ruling in Brown v. Owen, the lawsuit filed a around a year ago by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown to invalidate Tim Eyman's Initiative 960.

Initiative 960, which narrowly passed in 2007, requires a two thirds vote of each house of the Legislature to raise new revenue. Brown had argued (and we agree) that Initiative 960 violates Article II, Section 22 of the State Constitution, which stipulates that bills shall pass by majority vote.

The ruling is basically a dismissal of Brown's suit on a technicality. The Supreme Court did not find Initiative 960 to be constitutional; rather, the court declined to address that issue, declaring:
This original action is improperly before this court on application for a writ of mandamus and is a nonjusticiable political question. Intervention of this court into an intrahouse dispute over a parliamentary ruling to compel the president of the senate to perform a discretionary duty would be a grave violation of separation of powers.

We dismiss the action.
The Supreme Court seems to be suggesting that it can't get involved in deciding Initiative 960's constitutionality until the Legislature defies Initiative 960 and passes a bill raising revenue by simple majority vote. Governor Gregoire would then presumably have to sign it as well.

But at that point, Initiative 960 would become effectively nullified anyway by act of cooperative civil disobedience by the state's elected leaders.

Under this scenario, the issue could still theoretically land before the Supreme Court, if Tim Eyman or any of his followers sued.

Is there another pathway for Initiative 960 to be challenged? I can think of one possibility (although - disclaimer here - since I'm not a lawyer, I don't know if this is really feasible). That is: The Legislature could attempt to pass a revenue increase by simple majority. After that fails, a group of citizens could sue the state and argue that Initiative 960 is unconstitutional.

If there is no further litigation against Initiative 960, the earliest it could be rescinded in whole or in part would be next session, when it will become possible for the Legislature to amend Initiative 960 by simple majority vote.

(The State Constitution provides that initiatives, once passed, may not be amended for two years, except by supermajority vote).


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