Supreme Court should uphold decision striking down I-1053 | Andrew Villeneuve
June 1, 2012 · 9:20 AM
Earlier this week, on the same day Seattle was hit with another round of gun violence, something extraordinary happened: A court of law finally ruled on the constitutionality of Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053, the third in a series of measures which illicitly require two-thirds votes of each house of the Legislature to raise taxes.
In a well-researched opinion, King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller concluded that I-1053 was unconstitutional on multiple grounds and granted a motion to overturn the measure, sought by a coalition of parents, teachers and lawmakers. Heller's ruling marks the first time a court has weighed in on the constitutionality of I-1053 and its predecessors; previous cases were dismissed without being considered on the merits.
Within hours of the ruling's publication, Attorney General Rob McKenna – who is the Republican Party's candidate for governor this cycle – was already promising to appeal to the Supreme Court.
“We thank Superior Court Judge Heller for his thoughtful consideration of this matter,” McKenna said in a statement. “However, we will appeal this decision because we believe these voter-enacted laws are constitutional, and we are determined to defend the will of the voters, just as we defend laws passed by the Legislature.”
When McKenna says "we," who exactly is he referring to? He can't mean Gov. Chris Gregoire, House Speaker Frank Chopp or Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown – they have all said they believe I-1053 and its predecessors are unconstitutional. In fact, Gregoire is being represented by her own independent counsel in this case because she so strongly disagrees with McKenna's position that “this suit is not appropriate for judges to resolve”.
Perhaps the reason McKenna and his team oppose judicial review of I-1053 is that they know their arguments in favor of I-1053's validity hold no water. Article II, Section 22 of our state Constitution is clear: Bills shall pass by majority vote. McKenna and his team are arguing that “majority” just means a floor of 50 percent or greater. In other words, they contend that threshold can be raised - but not lowered - by statute.
Think about the absurdity of this argument for a moment. If “majority vote” can mean two-thirds, then it could also mean three-fourths, or seven-eighths, or nine-tenths. Or even unanimous consent.
There are numerous places in our Constitution where supermajority vote requirements are spelled out. An amendment to the Constitution cannot move forward except with a two-thirds vote of each house, whereupon it then goes before the people for ratification. But Article II, Section 22 deliberately says that a majority vote shall be sufficient for the passage of bills. And by majority vote, our founders meant only greater than 50 percent. No more, no less. Any other standard would “give a minority a negative upon the majority," as our founding father Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 22, explaining why the Constitution (as it had been drafted) called for Congress to operate by majority vote.
In the same essay, Hamilton added: “If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.”
When it comes to the fate of legislation, a supermajority is like a submajority. Requiring two-thirds for the passage of some bills but not others makes as much sense as allowing some bills to pass by a one-third vote but not others.
Tim Eyman and his followers argue that I-1053 and its predecessors are legitimate because the people of Washington voted for them. But democracy cannot be used to abolish democracy. What right do we have to take away majority rule and deprive voters in future elections of their authority to choose a functioning representative government?
What's more, we, the voters, often contradict ourselves. In 2007, at the same time we narrowly approved I-960 (I-1053's predecessor), which unconstitutionally required two-thirds votes to raise or restore revenue, we also approved a constitutional amendment removing supermajority requirements for passage of school levies.
The following year, we elected a governor and a Legislature opposed to I-960, who later suspended the measure because it was interfering with their ability to govern Washington and raise revenue to fund the services that Washingtonians wanted and needed.
The Supreme Court should uphold Judge Heller's thoughtful ruling striking down I-1053. If our plan of government is to work as it was intended to, we must not allow cheaters like BP, ConocoPhillips, Tesoro, and Shell – the companies that put up much of the money for I-1053's placement on the November 2010 ballot – to rig the system to prevent our lawmakers from democratically making decisions about how to fund our state's vital public services.
I-1053 has to go. It's unconstitutional, undemocratic, and unsound.
Andrew Villeneuve, a 2005 Redmond High graduate, is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a Redmond-based grassroots organization. Villeneuve can be reached at email@example.com.