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.
“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.