Washington State Supreme Court Upholds I-1183

On May 31, 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court narrowly upheld I-1183, which removed the State from the distribution of liquor as passed by voters last November.  The initiative’s opponents had alleged that I-1183 violates the Washington State Constitution’s single-title rule because the reference to “license fees based on sales” in I-1183’s title was insufficient to put voters on notice of what was actually a tax.  They also alleged that various features of the initiative—including, most notably, the $10 million earmark for public safety—violate the state constitution’s single-subject rule by impermissibly “logrolling” multiple subjects into one law.  The Court, in an opinion authored by Justice González and joined by four justices, concluded that I-1183’s opponents had failed to rebut the presumption that the initiative is constitutional.

Citing earlier precedent, Justice González wrote: “A title complies with the constitution if it gives notice that would lead to an inquiry into the body of the act, or indicate to an inquiring mind the scope and purpose of the law.”  He then concluded that “[t]he phrase ‘license fees based on sales’ is sufficient to indicate to an inquiring mind the scope and purpose of that provision[,]” which requires spirits distributors and retailers to pay a license fee calculated as a percentage of spirits revenue.  In response to the single-subject challenge, the majority concluded that liquor has an “obvious connection to broader public safety concerns” such that the required rational unity between the subjects exists.

Justices Wiggins, Johnson, and Fairhurst dissented, concluding that the initiative violates both the subject-in-title and single-subject rules.  Justice Chambers concurred in part and dissented in part, concluding that the initiative violates the subject-in-title rule, but not the single-subject rule.