City Desk

D.C. Council Wants Residents To Vote On Attorney General

Peter Nickles

Today, the D.C. Council passed legislation that would make the city's Attorney General an elected position. By a 12-1 margin, the council approved the measure. If enacted, the AG would serve a four-year term and must have significant experience litigating in the District. The Home Rule charter would have to be amended by Congress before the legislation could be enacted.

Of course, AG Peter Nickles is against this legislation. He said the new law would be "disastrous."

*file photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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Comments

  1. #1

    who voted no?

  2. #2

    Cherkis, please answer jp.

  3. #3
  4. #4

    Excellent legislative decision, finally.

    J, E. time has come and gone...voters in his ward do the right thing next time and vote him out.

  5. #5

    Yes, Evans apparently is the only CM with a brain. Voters previously approved referendum for US Attorney (the office in charge of prosecuting all serious DC crime) to be elected. Today council voted 10 to 3 AGAINST passing that law. Then they vote to install politician as next DC Attorney General because they think Nickles has politicized the office, but not in their favor (Remember they confirmed him.) Finally, they exempt Nickles from the law, so he'll still be there if Fenty's reelected. Maybe tomorrow they'll vote to make city council members mayoral appointees. Yeah, that's the ticket!

  6. #6

    The 10 to 3 vote was to change the bill from strengthening the independence of the current AG office to creating a new position of an elected District Attorney. The Council doesn't need to send that legislation up to the hill; Congress could have acted on legislation creating an elected District Attorney at anytime since the Council submitted the legislation in 2003. It hasn't. Congress won't strip the prosecutorial authority of the US Attorneys Office and give it to the District. That change would have poisened this legislation. The Council's action today was a good, incremental step toward strengthening the position of AG.

  7. #7

    By a 12-1 margin, the council approved the measure.

    I would bet money taht the 1 decent was "Muriel Bowser" the true Mrs. Fenty.

  8. #8

    @ TH?: WAPO reported today that: "The council rejected an amendment (10 to 3) that would have instead transferred the powers or the U.S.Attorney's Office to an elected District Attorney". Seems you're saying the council rejected that proposal out of fear that Congress would've vetoed it. And you do agree, as WAPO reports, that DC voters approved a referendum in 2002 basically endorsing making the US Attorney's position in DC an elected one, right? Which is essentially what I wrote in my initial post. You can support the council vote rejecting the elected US Attorney amendment, but don't say it didn't happen. The council shouldn't be afraid to pass laws the voters want soley because they fear Congress will disapprove them. In fact, the District is the only place in the United States where the feds prosecute local and federal crimes. Everywhere else, they prosecute only federal crimes.

    As to making the AG's office an elected position, your view is it will "strengthen the position of AG" when the AG becomes an elected politician. My view is it will virtually guarantee the AG will be thinking about politics more than law. I'm troubled by that.

  9. #9

    @ Wendy Glenn: How much money?

  10. #10

    @WG I agree that CM Bowser is decent, but not that she's the onlydecent person on the council, nor that she's married to the mayor.
    Or did I read your comment wrong?

    FWIW, I agree with TH. This is a short-sighted move.

  11. #11

    Truth Hurts, if we want the district to be like other jurisdictions in prosecuting local crimes ourselves rather than having the US attorney do it, then why should we fear being like other states in having an elected AG, when 43 of the 50 states have exactly that? Are the AGs in all those states really all "thinking about politics more than law"?

    Also, the guy with the question mark seems to be making the point that changing this bill into one creating a DA would be not only doing something completely different from the intended purpose but doing something unnecessary, since the council already passed a bill doing that in 2003. Why would passing another bill doing the same thing be expected to get Congress to act?

  12. #12

    KC reasonable questions. The issue of the US Attorney prosecuting local crimes is essentially a home rule issue. In short, US Attorneys work the US Attorney General (Eric Holder. And basically each state has at least one branch office. Its purpose is to prosecute federal crimes. Quite sure it'd be unconstitutional for US attorney to try and take over local state criminal prosecutions. DC is the ONLY place where the US Attorney prosecutes offenses made criminal by DC statutes. And this is not DC's decision, it's Congress' decision.

    With regard to elected/versus appointed AG's, every state (and the District) has an AG. Most states elect their AG's, seven have them appointed by the governor. Many state elected AG's run for Governor after they've been AG, and it's politicized the AGs who have their eyes on a higher office. It's especially problemmatic where the AG has a different party affiliation than the governor (eg, hypothetically DC could get a Republican AG and a Democrat Mayor). Finally, agree with your interpretation of the guy with the question mark's post. Appears to me from reading WAPO, though, that council (in 2003 or after) never passed legislation implementing voters referendum. Instead, Holmes Norton introduced federal legislation that was permenently tabled. I don't think Congress has that option with regard to DC laws. There's a short (60 days?) Congressional window where DC laws can be voted down or they become law. Unless I'm mistaken, DC council never put Congress to that test. In conclusion, I don't like electing judges, prosecutors, police chiefs, etc. The executive should nominate them and the legislature should confirm or reject them in my view. Looking back 10 years from now, it may turn out DC voters elected a fabulous AG. Or they might have elected just a politician with a law license. But the mayor and the council won't have had any say in the process.

  13. #13

    Bill 14-600. It was passed by the Council in 2003. It requires a Charter amendment, so Congress must affirmatively act on it (no 30 or 60 day passive review period). Bill 14-600 creates an elected DA for DC. Literally, Congress could have and can act on that legislation at any time since it was sent up by the District in 2003. Congress does not want to take local prosecutorial authority away from the US Attorneys Office. The amendment rejected yesterday (10-3) wasnearly identical, and so entirely unecessary. All it would have served to have done was kill the underlying bill.

    But if your argument is, as it appears to be, more whether the AG should even be elected... there are good arguments to be made on both sides. You mentioned party affiliation, and a last minute amendment made the election of the AG on a partisan basis. So now there will be a primary and then general for this position (original bill was only a general). But in terms of having an elected AG, 43 states elect, 5 have the governor appt, one the state legislature, and one the state supreme court. The District is in the clear minority there.

  14. #14

    TH, I agree with you that the US attorney shouldn't be prosecuting local crimes here. But that's a separate issue from the idea of electing the AG. And you're right that Congress doesn't have to do anything for normal legislation (there's just a review period of 30 days that Congress is in session, which we're in now for the marriage equality bill), but bills that amend the DC Charter do require that Congress do the amending.

    I'm undecided on whether it's worse to have an appointed AG who might be a crony of the mayor or an elected AG who might be too political. One setup seems to work okay at the federal level, and the other works for the states in general, so neither is out of the ordinary. I'm leaning toward doing it the way the vast majority of states do, rather than the way the federal government and most territories do, since I think we should be a state.

  15. #15

    Fair response TH? and KC. WAPO's article didn't mention '03 council legislation, only Holmes Norton attempt at federal level. Perhaps Congress would reject same elected US Atty bill today, but the Republicans controlled Congress in '03, it's reversed now so why not try again?

    Re elected AG in DC, that legislation also will require Congress amending the DC charter. If electing the AG is a good idea, why don't we do it on the federal level? I think it's bad on any level, so we'll just agree to disagree on yesterday's bill.

  16. #16

    One last point: If DC wants to do as 43 other states do, the city council should eliminate contributory negligence as a bar to recovery, like 43 states have done? Overdue.

  17. #17

    TH, as I understand it, passing the US attorney bill again wouldn't change the situation. Congress doesn't need another essentially identical bill passed -- it can act on the bill the council passed in 2003.

    An elected AG at the federal level would require a constitutional amendment, so regardless of its possible merits it's not going to happen. In any case, all I'm saying is that if it's such a bad idea at the state level I'd expect to be hearing about problems in those 43 states. There doesn't seem to be any outcry there for appointed AGs.

    I'm not holding my breath for Congress to act on this bill any more than it did on the US attorney one. And is Fenty going to veto it first and force the council to go through an override vote?

  18. #18

    "I'm undecided on whether it's worse to have an appointed AG who might be a crony of the mayor or an elected AG who might be too political."

    ROTFLMAO

  19. #19

    Great post. I certainly agree. Well said.

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