Thursday, May 31, 2012

Busy week for high-profile court cases

Three significant court rulings were issued this week – two here in Washington and one at the federal level.

Initiative 1053: Supermajority Tax Requirements
Approved by voters in 2010, the Tim Eyman-sponsored I-1053 imposed a two-thirds supermajority requirement on all legislation that raises taxes. A group of HDC lawmakers joined a coalition in support of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the measure by stating the initiative violates Article 2, Section 22 of the state constitution.

Passage of bills. No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the member elected in each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.

At issue is whether the majority requirement in this section is merely a minimum requirement or both a minimum and maximum requirement. The coalition successfully argued the latter according to King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller. The judge did note, however, that a two-thirds majority threshold to raise taxes could be imposed, but such a change would require an amendment to the state constitution. Constitutional amendments require two-thirds support in both the House and Senate and a simple majority vote of the people.

You can read more about this story here and here. This case will likely be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Washington State Supreme Court
Liquor Privatization
The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the voter-approved I-1183 that privatized liquor sales in Washington. Opponents of the initiative argued that it violated the state’s “single subject” rule that requires a legislative bill or public initiative contain only one subject.  (This rule, for example, prevents sponsors from including farm subsidies in an education reform bill.)

The court ruling clears the way for private retailers to begin selling liquor as early as tomorrow, June 1. More on this story can be found here and here.

Same-Sex Marriage
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled today that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, also known as “DOMA,” is unconstitutional. The ruling has been stayed pending a possible ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a similar case, but is nonetheless a major victory for marriage equality advocates.

Washington lawmakers enacted a state-version of DOMA in 1998. Those provisions have largely been rolled back over the last 14 years. During the 2012 legislative session, bi-partisan majorities in both the House and Senate approved SB 6239 giving full marriage rights and benefits to same-sex partners. The bill was signed by the governor, but will likely be on the ballot in November as a referendum to the voters.

You can read the courts’ decisions here:
I-1053 tax decision
I-1183 liquor decision
DOMA decision

To read this story in Spanish, click here.