Eight months after he initially filed a lawsuit over the actions of the D.C. Council, candidate Paul Zukerberg finally got a big win in his quest to force the election of a D.C. attorney general, an election which was approved by voters overwhelmingly in 2010.
On June 4, a D.C. Court of Appeals panel ruled that the District must hold an election for attorney general in 2014 unless it is not “practically possible for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to do so under the applicable statutory and regulatory provisions.” The court further found that the D.C. Council acted illegally in attempting to delay the election until 2018.
“This case stands for the proposition that all power ultimately resides with the people, and when we choose to amend our Charter at the ballot box, our elected officials must respect our vote,” said Zukerberg.
In July, D.C. Council members voted to delay the election of the attorney general until 2018. The Court of Appeals panel ruled the vote was an attempt to override the 2010 charter amendment turning the attorney general’s office into an elected, rather than appointed, position. According to published reports, councilmembers are at odds with the boundaries of the office’s oversight.
Irvin Nathan, the current attorney general who was appointed by Mayor Vincent Gray, applauded the council’s vote last year, saying it “will maintain a strong mayor and a powerful, vibrant attorney general office” in approving the overall transition plan. Nathan also informed the Council that it did have the power to delay the election.
Zukerberg, a criminal defense attorney who seeks the position, filed suit a short time later to force the election to take place. In February, a D.C. Superior Court judge declined to order the attorney general’s office onto the April 1 primary ballot, but Zuckerberg refused to concede.
“The Council’s attempt to cancel the election, or postpone it indefinitely, was held to be unlawful,” he said.
Following the Court of Appeals panel’s decision, Nathan vowed to petition for a full en banc review of the issue, putting it before all nine Court of Appeals judges.
“We continue to believe that the Council of the District of Columbia had the authority to interpret the 2010 charter amendment to authorize a statute scheduling the attorney general election to be in 2018, and we will be drafting a petition to the full en banc court of the D.C. Court of Appeals on that key point,” said Nathan.
But many community leaders stood firm on their beliefs that elected and appointed leaders should not disregard the public’s will. In 2010, 75 percent of general election voters voted in favor of making the attorney general an elected position.
“The Board of Elections must move swiftly to restore the office of attorney general to the November ballot. We are expecting a [board] statement shortly,” said Zukerberg.
“I applaud the D.C. Court of Appeals for standing by the will of District voters who overwhelmingly supported an attorney general election,” said D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who voted against delaying the election last summer. “I trust that the mayor will instruct the current attorney general to accept the court’s decision and move forward with this election.”
While the D.C. Board of Elections waits for instructions from the attorney general’s office about whether to proceed with adding that office to the ballot, others questioned how an independent elections board could be prohibited from performing its duties.
“What little democracy D.C. voters have is again threatened if their overwhelming vote for an elected attorney general is not quickly realized,” said Anise Jenkins, president of Stand Up! For Democracy in D.C.
D.C. will join 43 other U.S. states that elect their attorney general by popular vote. This move further enfranchises D.C. voters, who have historically had a limited ability to vote for their government representatives.
“A lack of money can’t be used as an excuse in D.C. where all around us the signs of ever-expanding wealth are evident,” Jenkins said. “The people of the District of Columbia have spoken. Let their voices be respected and heard.”