After months of uncertainty, today the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that voters should for the first time elect an attorney general in 2014, reversing a move by the D.C. Council to delay the election until 2018. The battle isn't yet over, though — an appeal will be filed.
The decision published today seemed to settle a legal back-and-forth over the meaning and intent of the 2010 referendum in which D.C. voters opted for an elected, not appointed, attorney general. The D.C. Council argued that the referendum did not require that the election be held in 2014, an opinion that was upheld by a Superior Court judge earlier this year.
In its brief ruling, the Court of Appeals found that while some uncertainty existed in how the date was construed in the referendum's language, the voters' intent seemed to be clear on holding the election this year: "[W]e conclude that a far more natural reading of 'shall be after January 1, 2014' is than an election for the District's attorney general must be held in 2014."
If the ruling stands, it could mean that the D.C. Board of Elections will have to scramble to organize the election, which the court rules has to take place this year "unless it would not be practically possible." In April, the Council abandoned a bill that would have set the election for November, but with the court ruling, it will likely have to reconsider it.
The only declared candidate had been attorney and former D.C. Council candidate Paul Zukerberg, who collected signatures to get on the ballot earlier this year and raised money for the race. After the Council voted to postpone the race, he sued, taking his case to the Court of Appeals after losing in Superior Court.
"Here it was clear by a three-to-one majority that voters want an elected attorney general, they want someone to fight corruption in D.C. government, and the elected officials have to respect that decision," said Zukerberg.
There are still obstacles to overcome, though. D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan says the decision will be appealed, potentially delaying any further preparations for the election.
"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 in a statement.
"We will also be working with the Board of Elections and the Council to develop a full explanation of the practical and legal issues associated with rushing to hold the Attorney General election in 2014, which we will present in any further Superior Court proceedings following the Court of Appeals’ final decision," he added.
Ruling in Zukerberg v Bd of Elections