Appeals court decision keeps McDuffie off ballot for DC attorney general

The D.C. Court of Appeals has agreed with the Board of Elections’ ruling that Council member Kenyan McDuffie is not qualified to run for the seat of attorney general. But he’s not giving up.

The court affirmed Thursday the decision of the District of Columbia Board of Elections, which said last week that McDuffie has not “actively engaged” as a lawyer for at least five of the past 10 years, as D.C. law requires for candidates.

McDuffie’s campaign, in a statement, said that it disagrees with the three-judge panel’s conclusion, “which we believe … is contrary to the language, legislative history and intent of the statute.”

McDuffie said that his campaign will continue, and they have filed for an emergency stay and expedited petition for rehearing by the full D.C. Court of Appeals over Thursday’s panel decision.

McDuffie’s lawyer argued for an inclusive reading of the D.C. law Wednesday before judges, citing the nuance in the law’s language.

“The current statute says you have to be engaged, not employed,” McDuffie attorney Baruch Weiss said before the judges Wednesday. McDuffie has a law degree but doesn’t currently practice law.

McDuffie’s camp said that he fulfills the requirement during his time on the legislative branch because he was an attorney employed by D.C. and is “actively engaged” in legal work in his capacity as council member.

The board of elections argued that reading the statute in McDuffie’s interpretation would “effectively eliminate an experiential requirement for government employees” who are attorneys but do not hold attorney positions, or create a problem in determining when a D.C. employee not employed as an attorney is doing functionally equivalent work.

The challenge to McDuffie’s candidacy was brought by Bruce Spiva, who’s also vying for the attorney general position.

Spiva said he was not surprised but “gratified” that the court shared his reading of the statute.

“Council member McDuffie, although a dedicated public servant, simply didn’t meet the minimum eligibility requirements to run or be the D.C. attorney general,” Spiva told WTOP.

The judges were also not convinced by the brief filed by several current and former D.C. council members in support of McDuffie’s efforts, who said that the council 12 years ago would not have written a law in a way that would disqualify members of the bar from running for the office.

“That’s not proper legislative history, to have people coming 12 years after the fact, to try to change the meaning of the words that were written in the statute,” Spiva said. “And there are, of course, all kinds of other motives that legislators might have 12 years later to say that they meant something different than the words that they actually put in the statute.”

On Tuesday, attorney general candidates faced off in a forum to discuss issues facing District residents. McDuffie was not in attendance.

The decision Thursday effectively keeps McDuffie’s name off the ballot for the June primary. The D.C. Board of Elections has to finalize ballots by next week.

Even with McDuffie out of the race, Spiva said, “It is now, as it has been, a wide-open race.”

WTOP’s Sarah Jacobs and Will Vitka contributed to this report. 

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up