The line of the day goes to Justice Tom Chambers, who, relaying his question through Justice Mary Fairhurst via a passed note (Chambers has difficulty speaking due to throat cancer), skewered the Attorney General's argument in favor of the two-thirds rule.
The constitutional question comes down to this: Does Article 2, Section 22 of the state constitution—which says bills must be passed by a majority vote—set a floor or a ceiling on the number of votes?
The opponents of the two-thirds rule (a batch of Democratic legislators and education advocates) argue that the provision is a ceiling---that is, there's no wiggle room. (They won the argument earlier this year in King County Superior Court.) They cite the fact that there are 17 instances in the constitution that specify higher voting thresholds (such as issuing bonds or passing a constitutional amendment), making it clear that higher voting thresholds need to be spelled out.
Pushing for a more flexible reading, the AG's office, which defended the law in court today, argues that the majority requirement is merely a floor.
However, by that reasoning, all kinds of arbitrary (or ridiculous) requirements could be added on to legislation. Justice Debra Stephens was the first to make fun of the AG's reasoning, asking AG counsel Maureen Hart if "Joe Smith of Walla Walla has to sign off" on every bill?
Chambers upped the ante, making the point a bit more colorfully. He wanted to know if voters could pass a rule saying Santa Claus had to sign off on legislation.
Fans of the rule (specifically, Tim Eyman's I-1053, which passed in 2010 and was the literal subject of today's hearing), also got treated to a zinger. Building Industry Association of Washington-backed Justice James Johnson (who made no secret of his animosity toward the anti-1053 team) riffed off anti-1053 attorney Paul Lawrence's reference earlier in the proceedings to "the elephant in the courtroom" (itself a reference to a previous State Supreme Court opinion that had criticized the Court for sidestepping the two-thirds question).
Tim Eyman outside the Supreme Court after today's arguments
Johnson corrected him: "The voters were the real elephant in the room."
Johnson was referring to the fact that voters have repeatedly passed the two-thirds rule. Before I-1053, there was I-960. And before 960, there was 601. (This year, Eyman is trying to reaffirm the rule—the legislature can repeal initiatives every two years—with I-1185.)
Johnson's zinger was Eyman's favorite moment of the day. Smiling outside the courtroom after the hearing, he told me: "That was the best line of the day. Nobody is talking about what the voters want."
I also asked Lawrence about Johnson's line. "The voters have a role here," he said, "they can elect legislators, and they can pass initiatives. But the initiative process is not an exercise in public polling. It is a right of the people to pass laws—laws that are constitutional."
Like we said, there's no way to issue a winner or loser based on reading the tea leaves from oral arguments, but we did find a winner elsewhere today—Landlords.
Today's announcement that the city had reached a $1.24 million settlement with Waste Management, the city's main garbage hauler, included news that every Seattle Public Utilities customer would receive a rebate of $10 to make up for eight days of lost trash service in November. Well ... some customers.
Renters who live in apartments that either include trash pickup in their base rent or charge a special trash surcharge won't see any rebate at all, despite the fact that they, like homeowners, didn't get their trashed picked up for eight days in a row.
Instead, that rebate will go to landlords, who will receive a $50 rebate for every Dumpster on properties they own, whether they live at those properties or not.