3/9/2012Washington Supreme Court Denies Citizens a Say on Traffic Cameras
The Washington Supreme Court sides with a traffic camera company in denying the right of citizens to vote on the topic.
The public is powerless to stop city councils from teaming up with private companies to install red light cameras and speed cameras, the Washington Supreme Court ruled yesterday. In a narrow 5-4 decision, the majority adopted the argument developed by photo enforcement vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) that holds public policy regarding the use of automated ticketing machines does not fall within the scope of the initiative power.
"The legislature granted to local legislative bodies the exclusive power to legislate on the subject of the use and operation of automated traffic safety cameras," Justice Barbara A. Madsen wrote for the majority. "The legislature's grant of authority does not extend to the electorate."
The high court resolved the case first filed in July 2010 by an ATS front group called "Mukilteo Citizens for Simple Government." According to emails obtained under freedom of information laws, ATS created this group, which consisted of a single person, to give the private company standing it would not otherwise have to block the initiative vote. The measure did appear on the ballot in November 2010, and 71 percent of Mukilteo voters chose to outlaw the use of cameras unless they received explicit approval from the electorate. The court majority argued this went too far.
"Proposition 1 attempted to expressly restrict the authority of Mukilteo's legislative body to enact red light cameras by requiring a two-thirds vote of the electorate for approval and by limiting the amount of traffic fines," Madsen concluded, although the text of the initiative only required a majority vote. "Because automated traffic safety cameras are not a proper subject for local initiative power, Proposition 1 is invalid because it is beyond the initiative power."
Initiative co-sponsor Tim Eyman blasted this finding as "arrogant."
"The government's going to decide which issues are okay for you to talk about and which issues are not okay for you to talk about," Eyman told TheNewspaper in an interview. "Essentially the courts, the government and red light camera companies are saying, 'Wait a minute, if you have a discussion and debate on this, you're going to end up coming out against what we want and so therefore we have to shut down this discussion. There must not be any more votes on this topic because they don't go our way.' It's Putin-esque."
Four justices thought the majority was headed in the wrong direction. They believed instead that it makes no sense to rule on this case since the election has already been held and its results are final.
"The majority does not claim anything unlawful was done here," Justice James M. Johnson wrote in his dissent. "The people exercised their right to petition. The city council put a relevant advisory issue on the ballot. The voters expressed a strong position and the city council repealed a disfavored ordinance. As there is no justiciable controversy for us to resolve, the appeal is moot."
At a hearing last May, Johnson cited the primacy of the initiative power in the state constitution. The very first article of the document states that all political power is inherent in the people. Johnson believes the people here properly settled the matter.
"The matter was appropriately and constitutionally resolved through the political process," Johnson concluded. "Not every issue requires judicial resolution."
Eyman says he is still considering bringing a statewide initiative that would let the people overrule the courts and legislature. He may also continue doing advisory-only ballot measures at the local level because they have the same effect. Politicians have taken down cameras after losing the vote.
"We may lost the battle, but we won the war in Mukilteo," Eyman said.
A copy of the decision is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.