Shepstone Management Company, Inc.
Washington State just dealt the wackos at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund or CELDF a stunning and mightily deserved blow, walloping them.
Finally, the world is waking up to what a nest of radicals the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) really is. The Mora County, New Mexico court decision was a huge illustration of what a mistake it is for any community to associate with the CELDF and we’ve seen recent pushback in Pennsylvania and Ohio as well. A recent Supreme Court decision out of the State of Washington (the state) may well be the best putdown, though, and it has nothing to do with fracking.
As we have noted here, and on the pages of Energy In Depth many times in the past, the CELDF is a pack of radical dogs. Fracking is but the latest in a long line of attempts by the organization to upend our US Constitution through the use of a device known as the Community Bill of Rights Ordinance. They latch onto any controversy they can find to promote this same ordinance model with a view o finally getting some court, some place, some day to approve a bit of it so they can move the battle a little further up the legal ladder and gradually chip away at the Constitution.
This time it was about the Spokane River in Washington State and here’s the basics, as reported by the Inlander Bloglander:
The Washington State Supreme Court gave a victory to local business groups after unanimously ruling that Envision Spokane’s sweeping Community Bill of Rights ballot measure was outside of the initiative process and should not go before voters.
The ruling, issued Feb. 4, stems from the most recent incarnation of the Community Bill of Rights that qualified for the general election in 2013. The initiative would have bestowed legal rights on the Spokane River, granted residents the right to block development in their neighborhoods, given employees new protections in the workplace and would have restricted any corporate rights that conflicted with the measure.
Envision qualified two versions of the Community Bill of Rights in 2009 and 2011, both of which were voted down. In 2013, a coalition of business groups and local government entities sued, arguing that the newest version of the Community Bill of Rights should be kept off the ballot because its scope went beyond the initiative process and they would be harmed if it passed.
A superior court judge agreed, but that decision was reversed by an appellate court last year.
Although the Supreme Court’s ruling expressed reluctance to strike down an initiative before it reached the ballot, it determined that the business groups and government entities had legal grounds to challenge the measure because they could demonstrate that they would be affected by it.
Notice how the CELDF, acting through a local affiliate named Envision Spokane (as always, so they can disingenuously disclaim it’s not their non-profit engaging in the lobbying) has been using the same M.O. as in Ohio and some other states where they have repeatedly brought the same ordinance up time and time again hoping to wear down voters. Notice, too, how they managed to get an appellate court to agree with them before the Supreme Court, in an incredible 9-0 vote from a very divided bench of judges in a very liberal state stepped in to restore sanity. This is the CELDF strategy; to keep pushing the controversy forward relentlessly and inching it up through the courts until they find a outlier judge or court to throw things into chaos by allowing their case to go forward.
It didn’t work this time. You can read the decision here and what you’ll see is how reluctant the court was to get involved in a local referendum decision, but they were compelled to do so (unanimously, no less) by the outrageous reach of the proposed ordinance, which goes against all law and all Constitutional principles. It was simply too radical, a point the Inlander Bloglander didn’t quite get in its coverage (e.g., the ordinance wouldn’t only “have restricted any corporate rights that conflicted with the measure,” but, rather, would have outlawed corporations.) All one has to do to see this is to read the conclusions of the court with respect to the four challenged elements of the proposed ordinance (extraneous legal citations deleted and emphasis added):
Finally, the provisions of a local initiative must be within the scope of the authority of the city itself. As we have explained, “While the inhabitants of a municipality may enact legislation governing local affairs, they cannot enact legislation which conflicts with state law.” Seattle Bldg. & Constr. Trades Council, 94 Wn.2d. In that case, we reviewed a Seattle initiative that would have halted certain Interstate 90 construction projects. We struck down the initiative-prior to it being put on the ballot-holding that it dealt with matters that the city had no authority to regulate: “the location and construction of state limited access facilities.”
The trial court found that all four of the Envision Initiative provisions were outside the scope of the initiative power. We discuss each provision in turn.
The first provision would require any proposed zoning changes involving large developments to be approved by voters in the neighborhood. The trial court ruled that this provision dealt with administrative matters and was thus outside the scope of the initiative power. We affirm this ruling. The city of Spokane has already adopted processes for zoning and development. This provision would modify those processes for zoning and development decisions, which falls under our description of an administrative matter since it deals with carrying out and executing laws or policies already in existence.
The second provision would give the Spokane River the legal right to “exist and flourish,” including the rights to sustainable recharge, sufficient flows to support native fish, and clean water. It would also give Spokane residents the right to access and use water in the city, as well as the right to enforce the Spokane River’s new rights. The trial court ruled that this provision was outside of the scope of the local initiative power because it conflicted with state law, which already determines the water rights for the Spokane River. The trial court noted that this provision was particularly problematic because it dealt with an aquifer that is actually located in Idaho, which is outside of the city’s authority. The trial court also ruled that this provision was administrative in nature because it would deal with how an existing regulatory scheme is implemented. We affirm. This broad provision is directly contrary to the water rights system established by the State and is outside the scope of the city’s authority.
The third provision attempts to give employees the protections of the Bill of Rights against their employer in the workplace. The trial court ruled that this provision was outside of the scope of the local initiative power because (1) municipalities cannot expand constitutional protections and (2) this provision would conflict with state and federal labor laws. We affirm. Expanding the Bill of Rights to apply to private persons and entities, not just state actors, is a federal constitutional issue that is outside the scope of local authority…
The fourth provision would strip the legal rights of any corporation that violated the rights secured in the charter. This appears to be a response to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission…which held that corporations have rights under the federal constitution. The trial court ruled that this provision was outside of the scope of the local initiative power because it directly conflicts with federal and state law. We affirm this ruling because municipalities cannot strip constitutional rights from entities and cannot undo decisions of the United States Supreme Court.
CONCLUSION: While pre-election challenges to initiatives are disfavored, two types of challenges can be brought prior to election. For those allowable challenges, we continue to apply our existing standing rules. Under those rules, petitioners had standing to challenge this initiative. As to the underlying issue, we hold that the initiative exceeded the scope of local legislative authority and thus should not be put on the ballot.
Simple and to the point, isn’t it? The words are plain and the expressions understated, but the effect is to wallop the CELDF across the face with the obvious; “municipalities cannot strip constitutional rights from entities and cannot undo decisions of the United States Supreme Court.” Nothing more need be said.