Washington’s state level Voting Rights Act has easily survived a challenge to its constitutionality, with a unanimous Supreme Court ruling this week that the landmark law is “valid and constitutional on its face.” The decision is an important legal victory for voting justice and ensures that the WVRA will remain in force.
The majority opinion, authored by Justice Mary Yu, was signed by all of her colleagues, except for Justice G. Helen Whitener, who did not participate. Millie M. Judge filled in for Whitener as a Justice Pro Tem and was a majority cosigner.
Yu’s opinion notes that the case reached the Court when James Gimenez, a Franklin County voter, intervened in voting justice litigation that arose in that Eastern Washington county and made the argument that the WVRA was invalid. Gimenez did not prevail at the trial court level, so he appealed.
The Court accepted Gimenez’s request to review the case, probably because the justices felt that having a definitive precedent with regards to the WVRA’s constitutionality would be a good thing for Washington. (Trial court rulings are not binding precedents like state Supreme Court decisions are.)
“Gimenez’s arguments are all based on his view that the WVRA protects
some Washington voters but excludes others,” wrote Justice Yu.
“The WVRA’s protections apply to ‘a class of voters who are members of a race, color, or language minority group.’ […] Gimenez interprets this language to mean that the WVRA protects only members of ‘race minority groups,’ ‘color minority groups,’ or ‘language minority group[s].’”
“Gimenez also argues that the WVRA has been repealed by implication and is facially unconstitutional because it requires local governments to implement electoral systems that favor protected voters and disfavor others on the basis of race.”
“Gimenez’s arguments cannot succeed because his reading of the statute is
incorrect. The WVRA protects all Washington voters from discrimination on the basis of race, color, and language minority group. On its face, the WVRA does not require race-based favoritism in local electoral systems, nor does it trigger strict scrutiny by granting special privileges, abridging voting rights, or otherwise classifying voters on the basis of race. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs have standing and that the WVRA is valid and constitutional on its face.”
(By “plaintiffs,” Yu is referring to the parties who brought a Washington Voting Rights Act case against Franklin County and won — the action that Gimenez objected to and unsuccessfully sought to overturn by intervening.)
Notably, the Supreme Court did more than just turn back Gimenez’s challenge. It also granted the plaintiffs’ request for attorney fees and costs on appeal against Gimenez, which means Gimenez is on the hook for his opponents’ legal costs as well as his own. He didn’t even get so much as a dissent embracing his arguments out of the Supreme Court. This is what a complete defeat looks like.
Also of note: Gimenez’s attorney is Joel Ard, one of Tim Eyman’s favorite lawyers, who Eyman has continued to lavish praise on even after Ard quit representing Eyman in the main State of Washington v. Tim Eyman campaign finance enforcement case. Eyman has repeatedly characterized Ard as a brilliant and savvy legal mind. But it’s clear from the text of the decision that the Supreme Court was thoroughly unimpressed with Ard’s arguments.
NPI congratulates the UCLA Voting Rights Project, Floyd, Pflueger & Ringer, P.S.,
and Morfin Law Firm PLLC on the successful representation they provided to the respondents. Kudos also to OneAmerica, ACLU, Brennan, and all of the other groups that filed amici briefs in defense of the Washington Voting Rights Act.
Read the full opinion below:Supreme Court’s opinion in Portugal v. Franklin County
The case is Portugal v. Franklin County, No. 21–2‑50210–4.