Alliance for Gun Responsibility marchers at the 2016 Pride Parade
Alliance for Gun Responsibility marchers at the 2016 Pride Parade

Thurston Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court Judge James Dixon this morn­ing grant­ed a request from the Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion (NRA) and right wing activist Alan Got­tlieb to block the Alliance for Gun Respon­si­bil­i­ty’s Ini­tia­tive 1639 from the Novem­ber 2018 statewide bal­lot, deem­ing I‑1639’s peti­tions to be fatal­ly defective.

It’s the first time in state his­to­ry that an ini­tia­tive cer­ti­fied for a statewide vote by the Sec­re­tary of State has been ordered off the bal­lot. How­ev­er, Judge Dixon’s rul­ing will not be the final word on I‑1639’s fate, as the cam­paign has already appealed his deci­sion to the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court.

I‑1639 seeks to raise the min­i­mum age required to pur­chase semi­au­to­mat­ic firearms, impose new safe stor­age require­ments, and cre­ate an enhanced back­ground check sys­tem. Its sig­na­ture dri­ve took place over the span of only four weeks, owing to the Alliance wait­ing until after the leg­isla­tive ses­sion had adjourned Sine Die to decide to go to the bal­lot and launch a campaign.

When I‑1639’s peti­tions were pre­pared, an error result­ed in the text on the reverse side of the peti­tions appear­ing with­out the usu­al markup (under­lines and strikethroughs) com­mon­ly used in legal doc­u­ments to sig­ni­fy new text and delet­ed text. The NRA and Got­tlieb have argued that this defect should result in all of the peti­tions being inval­i­dat­ed — an argu­ment Dixon found persuasive.

The cam­paign has coun­tered that inval­i­da­tion of the peti­tions would cause hun­dreds of thou­sands of Wash­ing­ton vot­ers to be disenfranchised.

“Wash­ing­to­ni­ans already made it clear they want stronger gun laws,” I‑1639 cam­paign man­ag­er Stephen Paoli­ni said in a state­ment released fol­low­ing Dixon’s rul­ing. “That’s why hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple signed I‑1639. Those vot­ers deserve the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vote on a mea­sure they sup­port. It’s dis­ap­point­ing and unac­cept­able that the court would ignore the obvi­ous and clear inter­ests and desires of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans to keep their schools and com­mu­ni­ties safe.”

In 2015, when pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions sued to block Tim Eyman’s I‑1366 from the bal­lot on scope grounds in Huff v. Wyman, Eyman and his amen cho­rus cried foul, assert­ing that the First Amend­ment rights of the vot­ers who signed the mea­sure would be vio­lat­ed if I‑1366 was void­ed in a pre­elec­tion challenge.

Yes­ter­day, how­ev­er, Eyman pub­licly called on Judge Dixon to nul­li­fy I‑1639 in a state­ment intend­ed to show sol­i­dar­i­ty with the NRA and Got­tlieb.

“Tomor­row this judge should boot the bil­lion­aires’ anti-gun-rights ini­tia­tive off the bal­lot,” Eyman wrote. “It’ll send a mes­sage that even bil­lion­aires have to fol­low the law. And besides, because they have unlim­it­ed resources, they can spon­sor it again next year (and next time they’re like­ly to fol­low the law). So vot­ers won’t be ‘robbed’ of their right to vote on this ini­tia­tive, their vote will just be delayed.”

Wow! That is some incred­i­bly tor­tured log­ic right there.

In 2015, Eyman was howl­ing in fury over the prospect of I‑1366 being blocked from the bal­lot. Again and again, he declared it would be an utter trav­es­ty if the courts were to pre­vent his bil­lion­aire-fund­ed mea­sure from going to a vote, and he repeat­ed­ly cir­cu­lat­ed this state­ment made by his pal Pam Roach, which is also deli­cious­ly applic­a­ble to the cur­rent case involv­ing I‑1639:

No one is harmed by a pub­lic vote on an ini­tia­tive. It is the vot­ers who will be irrepara­bly harmed if Ini­tia­tive 1366 is removed from the bal­lot and blocked from a vote because it will pre­vent the vot­ers from express­ing their views on the mea­sure. It is the 339,236 vot­ers who signed peti­tions who will be irrepara­bly harmed if Ini­tia­tive 1366 is blocked because they signed those peti­tions to ensure a vote. … I urge that the court not take the unprece­dent­ed and unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic step of pre­vent­ing the peo­ple from vot­ing on a qual­i­fied statewide ini­tia­tive.”

— For­mer State Sen­a­tor Pam Roach, now a Pierce Coun­ty Coun­cilmem­ber, in an August 2015 ami­cus brief

Empha­sis is ours.

No one is harmed by a pub­lic vote on an ini­tia­tive. Tell that to the NRA and Alan Got­tlieb, who brought this legal chal­lenge against I‑1639. They’re clear­ly afraid of being hand­ed their third con­sec­u­tive bal­lot defeat in Novem­ber, and they don’t want the pub­lic to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to decide the fate of this initiative.

The NRA and Got­tlieb’s don’t-let-the-peo­ple vote law­suit was to be expect­ed. What is more sur­pris­ing is that Tim Eyman is pub­licly sup­port­ing it.

Eyman not only released a state­ment cheer­ing on the NRA and Got­tlieb and call­ing for I‑1639’s demise, he went down to Thurston Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court for the hear­ing in front of Judge Dixon and after­ward record­ed a video mes­sage for his fol­low­ers from his car, which he post­ed on social media.

Regard­less of what defects the I‑1639 peti­tions have, the First Amend­ment to the Unit­ed States Con­sti­tu­tion can­not apply to some and not others.

If block­ing I‑1366 from the bal­lot in 2015 would have vio­lat­ed the Unit­ed States Con­sti­tu­tion (as Eyman and his attor­neys argued then), then block­ing I‑1639 from the bal­lot this year would also vio­late the Unit­ed States Constitution.

The right wing can­not have it both ways.

The courts have nev­er stopped a statewide ini­tia­tive that had enough sig­na­tures to qual­i­fy for a spot on the bal­lot from going to vot­ers. In sid­ing with the NRA and Got­tlieb, Judge Dixon has just tak­en the “unprece­dent­ed and unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic step of pre­vent­ing the peo­ple from vot­ing on a qual­i­fied statewide ini­tia­tive” that for­mer State Sen­a­tor Pam Roach warned against in 2015.

But again, Dixon won’t have the final word on I‑1639. The Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court will. The state’s high­est court nor­mal­ly takes months to hear and decide a case like this, but since bal­lots have to be designed and mailed with­in a very short time­frame, the Court will have to decide with­in days.

Con­trary to what Tim Eyman told his fol­low­ers in his video mes­sage, the Court will be accept­ing briefs from the par­ties in this mat­ter. It may also hear oral argument.

“Both sides antic­i­pat­ed that the los­er would appeal to the state Supreme Court, and with a dead­line for the print­ing of bal­lots and the state Voter’s Pam­phlet loom­ing, an expe­dit­ed sched­ule has already been set,” the Spokesman-Review’s Olympia cor­re­spon­dent Jim Cam­den explained to read­ers in his report on Dixon’s rul­ing.

“Spon­sors will file a brief Mon­day argu­ing why Dixon’s deci­sion should be over­turned, oppo­nents will file their brief on Wednes­day and spon­sors must reply by Thurs­day. If the court wants oral argu­ments, they will hap­pen on August 28th.”

If the Supreme Court sticks to prece­dent, then Dixon’s rul­ing will be over­turned and vot­ers will get the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vote on I‑1639 this fall. Oth­er­wise, we could end up with a new prece­dent that will have seri­ous ram­i­fi­ca­tions for future initiatives.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “Judge blocks Alliance for Gun Responsibility’s I‑1639 from the ballot; campaign appeals”

  1. Regard­less of Tim Eyman being a waste of oxy­gen, the cam­paign to get I‑1639 on the bal­lot was pret­ty shady. Odd­ly enough, I saw at least one sig­na­ture gath­er­er col­lect­ing sig­na­tures for both I‑1639 *and* what­ev­er Eyman’s lat­est car tab non­sense was.

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