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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Who Loves Strict Constructionism?

Posted by on November 29 at 16:20 PM

When you get way down into legal debate over all those flawed voter challenges that were issued by Republicans just before the last election, you arrive in a strange sort of opposite world.

In this world, everyone agrees that the state’s voter challenge law says that “the person filing the challenge must furnish the address at which the challenged voter actually resides.” And everyone agrees that Lori Sotelo, the Republican party official who challenged nearly 2,000 King County residents, alleging they were illegally registered at P.O. boxes and storage units, failed in many cases to furnish the address at which the voter she was challenging actually resided. Therefore a “strict constructionist” interpretation of the law, as Republican King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng noted at a press conference today, would conclude that Sotelo was required to furnish the actual addresses of the voters she was challenging in every case, or her challenges would not count.

Now, who loves strict constructionism? Usually, it’s Republicans, who embrace the concept in arguing that the Constitution, for example, does not include a right to privacy because you can’t find one explicitly stated in the Constitution. The law is the law is the law, they say, and you can’t read or infer anything into it that’s not already there.

But in the opposite world that is the battle over these voter challenges, Republicans have rejected strict constructionism in order to argue that Sotelo doesn’t need to know the actual address of the person she’s challenging. Democrats, on the other hand, are embracing strict constructionism in order to argue that Sotelo’s challenges should be automatically rejected when she can’t show that she knows where the voter she is challenging lives now.

I asked Maleng about this strange state of affairs at his press conference today, and I’m proud to say the question elicited a few chuckles from reporters in the room. Maleng himself appeared to stifle a smile, and then said of his use of the phrase “strict constructionism”: “There wasn’t any meaning in putting it into those terms.”

In any case, Maleng announced today that he is asking the state’s Republican Attorney General, Rob McKenna, for an opinion clarifying the issue. It will be interesting to find out whether McKenna is a strict constructionist or not on this matter…