Today, the coalition of plaintiffs suing to consign Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 to the dustbin of Washington State political history filed their Motion for Summary Judgment, requesting that King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson find the measure unconstitutional and permanently enjoin its enforcement.
In a 20,495 word memorandum, the coalition’s attorneys powerfully lay out the case for I‑976 to be struck down, citing more than a dozen ways in which the measure violates the Washington State Constitution.
“I‑976 had a deceptive ballot title that mislead the voters,” the brief’s concise conclusion begins. “It lied about ensuring car tabs would be $30.”
“It combined multiple unrelated subjects to cobble together enough support to get the measure passed, a classic unconstitutional log-rolling guise.”
“I‑976 fails to set forth all statutes it amends rendering its application confusing.”
“It intrudes on local home rule powers of taxation for local purposes, seeks to overturn local election results, and requires diversion of locally approved taxes.”
“I‑976 impairs contract obligations by seeking to eliminate Burien’s VLF [vehicle license fee] that have been pledged to secure its bonds.”
“Each of these matters are constitutional violations requiring that I‑976 be struck down,” the brief concludes. “Plaintiffs respectfully request that this Court grant them summary judgment and declare I‑976 unconstitutional.”
The brief itself clocks in at sixty-five pages, and exhaustively discusses the defects that make I‑976 the latest fatally flawed Tim Eyman measure. There are also a significant number of pages of supporting documentation.
This is wholly intentional. It’s the responsibility of the plaintiffs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I‑976 violates the Constitution. They have the burden of proof. Accordingly, the coalition suing to defeat I‑976 has thoroughly examined the initiative under a microscope, and left no stone unturned in its legal analysis.
This is easily one of the most comprehensive and satisfying briefs I’ve ever read. Kudos to King County, the City of Seattle, and Pacifica Law Group on a job well done. By far, my favorite part of the brief is the statement of issues, which nicely serves as an authoritative, definitive list of all of the ways in which this dumpster fire of an initiative likely violates the Washington State Constitution.
Here is that list, for your reading enjoyment on this second weekend of January.
III. STATEMENT OF ISSUES
- Does the I‑976 ballot title violate article II, section 19 subject-in-title requirements because it deceives voters with the misrepresentations that “voter approved charges” are an exception to the $30 cap on motor vehicle license fees, and that voters will pay no more than $30 when licensing a vehicle?
- Does the I‑976 ballot title violate article II, section 19 subject-in-title requirements because it fails to include numerous necessary subjects and does not prompt inquiry into those omitted subjects?
- Does I‑976 violate the article II, section 19 single subject requirements because it combines multiple subjects that are not germane to each other?
- Does I‑976 violate article II, section 37 by amending existing statutes without setting the amendments forth in full, thereby resulting in confusion as to the effect of the new law?
- Does I‑976 violate article XI, section 12 by depriving municipal governments of vested local taxing authority for local purposes prior to expiration of the local tax?
- Does I‑976 violate article I, section 19 by using a statewide vote to override existing local votes and diluting the voice of local voters on matters of local concern?
- Does I‑976 violate article VII, section 5 by diverting tax dollars from the purposes approved by local voters?
- Does I‑976 violate article I, section 23 by impairing bond obligations?
- Does I‑976 violate Washington’s separation of powers doctrine by intruding on the executive function of administering bond repayment?
- Does I‑976 violate Washington’s separation of powers doctrine by unconstitutionally delegating legislative functions regarding the effective dates of laws and the legal force of certain statutes to the discretionary decisions of a municipal government?
- Does I‑976 violate article I, section 12 by conferring a special privilege on a private corporation by requiring DOL [Department of Licensing] to use the Kelley Blue Book valuation product?
That’s eleven total potential violations of the Constitution identified by the plaintiffs. With certain kinds of violations, severability does not come into play, owing to the nature of the violation, so a single strike against a measure can be sufficient to void it in its entirety. (Logrolling would be a good example.)
Back in 2015, when we were working against the last Tim Eyman measure that appeared on the ballot (I‑1366), I often described it as “unconstitutional every way to Sunday.” In 2016, the Supreme Court emphatically agreed that I‑1366 was unconstitutional, unanimously striking down the measure in its entirety.
I‑976 shares the same characteristics as I‑1366. Given how badly written it is, I don’t think it stands much of a chance of withstanding constitutional scrutiny.
Tomorrow, we’ll have another installment of Weekend Reading that excerpts another one of my favorite passages from the motion for summary judgment filed by the coalition of plaintiffs in Garfield County et al v. State of Washington et al.
You think that Tim Eyman would have learned by now. Nobody has the right to pass legislation that denies local Taxing jurisdictions the ability to determine for themselves. Tim’s ultimate target is Sound Transit. Which he has a particular vile hatred of.
Strike one, strike two, strike three… no, wait, make that eleven strikes against I‑976! Wowza!
I’m noticing that quite a few of the alleged violations concern bills, which are products of the state legislature. An initiative, such as I‑976, is different and distinct from a bill, as it is a product of the people of Washington, and not the state. Therefore, it appears that these violations in particular are not violations at all. Perhaps the coalition of plaintiffs should be paying more attention to what our state constitution actually says, instead of what they want it to say.
Initiatives must follow the same constitutional rules that bills do, Kaleb.
Both are kinds of proposed statutes. A bill is a proposed law in the Legislature; an initiative is a proposed law that goes before the people for consideration.
It does not matter where the law originates from — it must comply with the Constitution, period. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. A statute cannot violate the state’s plan of government, not even if voters approve it.
This is constitutional law 101.
The plaintiffs are represented by counsel (Pacifica Law Group) with a long history of litigating thorny constitutional law questions. It’s amusing that you think they don’t know what they’re talking about…
Wow, that’s a lot of constitutional violations…
You’ve proven that I was mistaken. You were right, I was wrong. I do still have a lot to learn about constitutional law after all. However, I find it very telling that there are complaints about the constitutionality of I‑976, whereas during the 2018 November elections, there was a similar concern about I‑1639, yet it was disregarded.
(Background: Let the people vote? Nope! Tim Eyman calls for I‑1639 to be blocked from ballot.)
Could it possibly be that Tim Eyman was opposed to I‑1639 not only because he disagreed with it, but more importantly, because it violated state law?
For instance, the text on the back of the petitions for the initiative was quite small, and the text was quite lengthy, making it hard to read. State law requires that the text of an initiative on a petition be readable, which seemed dubious in this case. Of course, you could say that is debatable. However, what’s not debatable is the fact that the text of the initiative on the petition did not include the underlining of language that would be new state law if the initiative passed. Also, the text of the initiative on the petition did not include strikethroughs indicating any wording in state law that would be repealed if the initiative passed.
When I‑1639 was challenged, however, none of this mattered to the State Supreme Court, which decided that the petition for the initiative complied with state law, and so the initiative ended up on the November 2018 ballot.
Therefore, I find it amusing that you didn’t seem to have any complaints about I‑1639 in the above press release, but have a whole host of them about I‑976. The hypocrisy is evident.
You are comparing apples and oranges, Kaleb.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that it will not consider the constitutionality of statewide initiatives before an election is held. It only entertains scope and procedural challenges before a measure has been decided by voters. And even then, the courts have been very reluctant to block a measure from proceeding to the ballot for voters to consider.
The apple: I‑1639 was challenged before the November 2018 general election on procedural (not constitutional) grounds. The Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that “there is no legislative mandate that the secretary must decline to certify and present to voters an initiative based on failure to comply with the requirement that “a readable, full, true, and correct copy” of the initiative appear on the back of every petition, or on legibility or formatting concerns.” The Court reasoned:
In other words: there may have been a defect with the petitions, but that defect cannot be grounds for the disqualification of the petitions.
The orange: I‑976 is currently being challenged on constitutional grounds in the wake of an election. It has been temporarily enjoined from implementation while the challenge is considered. The plaintiffs in the case did not bring a constitutional challenge prior to the election, and that’s because the courts would not have considered it.
If I‑1639 is unconstitutional, then it should be struck down. We do not believe it is unconstitutional. But if it is, then it should be deemed unenforceable just as Eyman’s past unconstitutional initiatives have been.
For that to happen, a challenge would need to be brought, and the measure’s lack of constitutionality proved beyond a reasonable doubt.