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Sunday, April 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Final say on community rights

The Supreme Court ruling that smacked down the 2013 Envision Spokane initiative was unanimous, definitive and elementary in its reasoning.

It marked the third legal review of the so-called Community Bill of Rights, and Envision’s only victory was a Court of Appeals ruling that initiative challengers did not have “standing;” a stake in the initiative’s outcome. The Supreme Court disagreed, and said the initiative should never have been placed on the ballot.

Envision Spokane President Brad Read responded by saying, “Nobody’s going to take this as a final blow and say ‘We’re giving up,’ ”

That’s fine, as long as the next attempt doesn’t ask the city to go beyond the scope of its powers. The Supreme Court’s ruling is a veritable blueprint for how to avoid the aggravation next time.

Plus, the City Council has since established a system for reviewing local initiatives that can head off measures that are legally wobbly and/or jurisdictionally challenged.

The Supreme Court found all four of the “rights” asserted in the initiative to be out of bounds. The rationale is simple. If you want to change state law, you run a statewide initiative. If you want to amend federal constitutional rights, take it Congress or a federal court. If you want to do that for a particular community, forget it.

Think of it this way: If you have a problem with McDonald’s, you don’t complain to Arby’s.

City leaders and others made this point several times, as did Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno, who ruled initially — and, as it turns out, correctly — that the initiative was misguided and should be kept off the ballot.

Government has been reluctant to pre-empt initiatives, but the Supreme Court noted that the state constitution protects statewide initiatives, not those run locally. Henceforth, activists should expect local initiatives to be subjected to more scrutiny at the outset.

The city cannot, as Envision wanted, grant rights to the Spokane River or the aquifer. For one thing, much of the aquifer is in another state, Idaho. For another, governments and businesses that are affected by the river cannot have their rights ignored.

Voters cannot give local workers rights that conflict with state and federal labor laws. Citizens cannot grant themselves the power to reject zoning decisions. The desired changes must achieved legislatively through the City Council, not administratively by neighborhoods.

And, finally, citizens cannot limit the rights of corporations, regardless of what one thinks of the Citizens United ruling on campaign finance. It’s a federal matter. Take it up with Congress or the federal courts.

Thursday’s ruling by the Supreme Court amounts to a simple lesson in civics. From now on, there’s no excuse for failing to do the homework.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on “Opinion.”

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