THE SEATTLE City Council may appeal a federal court decision allowing political candidates freedom of speech in the city voters' pamphlet, but it's refusing to talk about it.
The council met Monday in closed session to discuss the recommendation of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission that the city file an appeal to U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik's September ruling striking down voters' pamphlet content restrictions. Council President Margaret Pageler's office didn't return a call asking whether council members supported an appeal.
The voters' pamphlet is mailed to every Seattle household before each city election and contains candidates' photos, statements, and arguments for and against ballot measures. Taxpayers foot the bill. The suit, filed by then-City Council candidate Grant Cogswell, asserted that the city rules are biased against nonincumbents, who are not allowed to criticize their election opponents—or even cite them by name.
Lasnik agreed, ruling that the restriction was not "viewpoint neutral" and was thus an infringement on candidates' free-speech rights. He struck down the restriction in time for candidates to address their opponents in their final election voters' guide statements.
According to a letter from Ethics and Elections Commission chair Timothy Burgess, commission members were split 3-2 on requesting an appeal. However, Burgess said the commission met with Marc Levy, the outside attorney who argued the case for the city, and was convinced by him that an appeal would be successful.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which provided legal assistance to Cogswell, hasn't heard from the city as to its intention to appeal the decision. Doug Honig, ACLU-W spokesman, says he would be disappointed if the case ends up in the U.S. Court of Appeals, given what he sees as the blatant unfairness of the city rule. "Incumbents can tout all the wonderful things they've done in office, and the people running against them can't criticize these things," says Honig.
Curiously, one public official who agrees with the ACLU is outgoing City Attorney Mark Sidran. He filed a declaration in the Cogswell case because he wanted to be able to discuss his mayor's race opponent, Greg Nickels, in his voters' pamphlet statement.