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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, June 16th, 2023

Washington State Supreme Court unanimously upholds state Voting Rights Act

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“Gimenez also argues that the WVRA has been repealed by impli­ca­tion and is facial­ly uncon­sti­tu­tion­al because it requires local gov­ern­ments to imple­ment elec­toral sys­tems that favor pro­tect­ed vot­ers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.

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