King County judge strikes down Compassion Seattle initiative, removing it from November ballot

This afternoon, King County District Court Judge Catherine Shaffer issued a ruling from the bench declaring the proposed “Compassion Seattle” charter amendment, also known as CA29, to be outside the scope of the local initiative/charter amendment process and ordered it removed from the November ballot.

UPDATE 8-31-21:  Here is Judge Shaffer’s written ruling.

See SCC Insight’s previous article on the legal arguments that the plaintiffs asserted.

Judge Shaffer gave both sides 20 minutes for oral arguments, though she stated upfront that she would issue her decision immediately afterward. She asked no questions of either side, reinforcing the perception that she had already made up her mind (not uncommon for judges, who sometimes use oral arguments to provide an opportunity for some new insight but have generally done their homework in advance). While remarking that as a voter she likes the content of the Compassion Seattle amendment as proposed, she said that as a judge she was required to rule that it is outside the scope of permissible charter amendments.  Briefly:

  • In enacting certain land-use provisions, it conflicts with state law that assigns control over land-use and zoning exclusively to the City Council. Under a 1908 state Supreme Court ruling, Washington state law has supremacy over local laws — including city charters.
  • It also interferes with the City Council’s exclusive authority over the budget, as assigned under state law.  “Both of these are not even close,” Shaffer commented.
  • Also, it interferes with the state’s comprehensive scheme for responding to the homelessness crisis, again creating a conflict with state law. Shaffer cited a 2006 case regarding the Growth Management Act as controlling case precedent that when the state establishes a comprehensive scheme, it instructs and empowers the local legislative body, not the municipality as a whole — putting it out of the reach of initiatives and charter amendments.
  • Because the city has already entered into an interlocal agreement with King County to create the regional homelessness authority, CA29 interferes with the city’s ability to move forward with it. That is an administrative matter, which the courts have clearly ruled is outside the scope of initiatives and charter amendments.

The charter amendment sponsors are free to appeal, but the timing will be difficult. King County Elections Director Julie Wise submitted a brief with the court in which she declined to take a side on the validity of CA29, but asked that the court resolve the matter quickly so that her office can finalize the contents of the ballot by August 30th. “Any delay in those activities will affect future deadlines and may hinder the County’s ability to deliver final ballots to the printer as scheduled on September 9 and to mail military and overseas ballots by the statutory deadline of September 18,” she wrote.

An appeal might be a futile effort, however, since any one of the issues raised by the plaintiffs is sufficient to keep CA29 off the ballot. While the sponsors might get some issues reversed on appeal, the odds of reversal on all of them is very low.

UPDATE: according to Compassion Seattle’s Tim Burgess, the campaign will not appeal today’s ruling. Burgess cited the tight timeline given King County Elections’ deadline to begin ballot preparations.

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  1. You have to wonder what the game here really was. Surely these glaring conflicts with legal precedent had to be known by Burgess and team. Was it a “hail, Mary?” A grift (they got some of my money)? Or, amazingly, pure ignorance? You really do have to wonder.

  2. While I disagree with the ruling, I must respect it. I trust the courts will take the same stance with the unconstitutional income tax pass recently.

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