Supreme Court denies stay of injunction, Initiative 976 remains on hold

By a 6-3 vote, this evening the Washington State Supreme Court denied the Attorney General’s emergency motion for a stay on the preliminary injunction blocking the implementation of Initiative 976, the “$30 car tab” law.

I-976 was original intended to take effect tomorrow, but last week King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson granted a preliminary injunction blocking its implementation while the case proceeded in his court. The Attorney General filed an emergency appeal of that injunction with the state Supreme Court on Monday in an attempt to allow implementation to proceed on schedule.

The majority did not explain their reasoning for denying the stay — nor were they required to. The minority, however, did spell out why they would have granted the stay, including some interesting discussion of how they weighed the competing harms each side would incur if a stay were or were not granted, and how they interpreted what it meant to “maintain the status quo” in this situation — something that emergency stays are supposed to accomplish.

Second, the State has shown the injuries it would suffer without a stay outweigh those the initiative’s challengers would suffer with a stay. While the challengers point to significant losses in revenue and service that could result from a stay and the State highlights the cost of any necessary taxpayer refunds, these monetary injuries are not the only ones that matter. Also important is the potential harm to voters’ confidence in the initiative system and our democratic process as a whole. The ordinary process when an initiative is passed by the voters is that it becomes effective on the designated date and is presumptively valid until and unless a court declares it  unconstitutional. Granting a stay preserves this process.

With that settled, the case now returns to the King County Superior Court. Judge Ferguson has requested both parties to submit a schedule tomorrow for further motions, briefs, and hearings. Both sides have indicated that they are interested in an expedited schedule; expect their proposed schedule to include cross-motions for summary judgment, responses and replies to those motions, and a hearing in front of the judge sometime in late winter or early spring. Then, of course, after the judge rules, the case will proceed back up the ladder of appeals courts again and will likely end up right back in front of the state Supreme Court sometime mid-year.

In the mean time, with the injunction still in place the state will continue to collect motor vehicle taxes and fees as if I-976 had not passed.