National Association of Attorneys General

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D.C. Voters Want to Elect their Attorney General

Blair Tinkle, General Counsel to the Association and Congressional Liaison

In Washington, D.C., the Attorney General is currently appointed by the mayor. That appointment power is contained in the D.C. Home Rule Charter which governs much of how the city operates.

A little publicized ballot question put before D.C. voters in the Nov. 2 election asked whether the D.C. Home Rule Charter should be amended to allow for the election of the D.C. Attorney General, giving the power to appoint that office to the voting residents of D.C., rather than the mayor.

Currently, the Attorney General is popularly elected in 43 states and Guam, and is appointed by the governor in five states (Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Wyoming) and in the jurisdictions of American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. In Maine, the Attorney General is selected by secret ballot of the legislature and in Tennessee, by the state supreme court.

According to the latest tallies at press time, DC voters approved the ballot initiative to make the DC Attorney General an elected position, starting with the 2014 election. However, it is not a done deal, as there is a required congressional review by both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate of amendments to D.C.’s Home Rule Charter.

Specifically, the Charter states that it “may be amended by an act passed by the Council and ratified by a majority of the registered qualified electors of the District voting in the referendum held for such ratification. The Chairman of the Council shall submit all such acts to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate on the day the Board of Elections and Ethics certifies that such act was ratified by a majority of the registered qualified electors voting thereon in such referendum.”

Once received, the House and Senate have 35 days to review and approve or disapprove of the referendum by Joint Resolution, otherwise the referendum becomes law in the absence of congressional action.

There has been no indication yet by either the House or Senate leaders as to anticipated congressional action.

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