Judge won’t intervene in attorney general election case – yet

November 15, 2013

Gary Thompson (L) and Paul Zukerberg stand outside the District’s U.S. Courthouse Thursday after oral arguments. (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)

A federal judge said Friday he would not take action to prevent a delay to the attorney general election that was originally set for next year — at least not until the bill delaying the election, passed by the D.C. Council last month, actually becomes law.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg said he had no power to grant the injunction sought by Adams Morgan lawyer and political candidate Paul Zukerberg because the delay legislation has yet to pass through a period of congressional review. That period is expected to extend into late December.

“While Zukerberg raises an interesting challenge, the Court has no power to rule on that question today, as none of his claims is ripe for review,” Boasberg said in his opinion, issued in late afternoon.

Boasberg tangled with several arguments offered by Zukerberg and his attorney, Gary Thompson, seeking to make the case that there is no need to wait. But the judge ultimately dismissed them all, saying the council bill “has no legal effect — it denies no right, and it takes nothing away from the voters or potential candidates — until the congressional review period has passed.”

“As a result, it cannot be reviewed,” he said.

In particular, the notion that the congressional review of D.C. laws is a mere formality didn’t gain much traction with Boasberg:  “Hugely popular bipartisan legislation that has just been introduced, for example, or a bill that Congress has passed and the President has vowed to sign is not law — yet,” he wrote. “The full legislative process must still be completed.”

But Boasberg made no ruling on the underlying merits of Zukerberg’s case and said the candidate  is free to refile his request for an injunction once the congressional review period is over. And, in fact, the judge offered Zukerberg a road map for proceeding with his case, noting that he has to choose whether to try to prove a constitutional claim in federal court or go to D.C. Superior Court and argue against the delay on other grounds.

There was a brief and skeptical discussion at the Nov. 7 hearing on the injunction of whether the election delay actually violates Zukerberg’s constitutional rights. Should Zukerberg come back to federal court, Boasberg said he “trusts [Zukerberg] will shore up any insufficiencies in his pleadings in this regard.”

Zukerberg pledged Friday to continue his suit. “The fight is not over,” he said.

Whether the fight will proceed in the federal or D.C. courts is, Zukerberg said, a decision he’ll make after consulting with Thompson. Either way, he said, “we are going to be prepared one minute after that law takes effect to go back to court and fight for this election.”

Ted Gest, a spokesman for the D.C. attorney general’s office, said lawyers there are reviewing the decision.

While the congressional review period elapses, the D.C. Board of Elections continues to prepare for the attorney general election as though there were no delay, including offering ballot nomination petitions for April’s primary elections. Zukerberg, a Democrat, is currently the only candidate to have picked them up. They will be due Jan. 2.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | November 15, 2013