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Candidates for Attorney General in the District of Columbia must have been employed as an attorney under D.C. Code § l-301.83(a)(5)

District of Columbia

,

United States

In McDuffie v. D.C. Board of Elections, et al., 22-AA-276 (D.C. Apr. 28, 2022), a proposed candidate for Attorney General of the District of Columbia appealed the Opinion and Order of the District of Columbia Board of Elections finding that he did not meet the qualification requirements set forth in D.C. Code § l-301.83(a) to serve in the position and thus his name could not be placed on the ballot for the upcoming election.

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals explained that D.C. Code § l-301.83(a)(5) imposes an experiential requirement for candidates for the role of Attorney General. This subsection requires that the candidate have been actively engaged, for at least 5 of the 10 years immediately preceding the assumption of the position of Attorney General, as either an attorney in the practice of law in the District of Columbia, a judge of a court in the District of Columbia, a professor of law in a law school in the District of Columbia, or an attorney employed in the District of Columbia by the United States or the District of Columbia.

D.C. Code § l-301.83(a)(5)(D) requires the candidate to have been employed in the position of attorney

The proposed candidate had been serving as a Council member for Ward 5 in the District of Columbia since 2012. He argued that he met the experiential requirement under D.C. Code § l-301.83(a)(5)(D) either because he is an attorney and is employed by the District of Columbia or because he is an attorney and, although not employed as such, is actively engaged in legal work in his capacity as a council member.

The Court disagreed. The Court noted the canon of statutory construction that election laws should be interpreted “in an inclusive spirit,” but found that certain considerations weighed heavily in favor of reading D.C. Code § l-301.83(a)(5)(D) more strictly as requiring employment in a position for which membership in a bar is a condition. Among these considerations was the fact that an individual need not be a lawyer to serve as a Council member in the District of Columbia and thus the proposed candidate’s reading would effectively eliminate an experiential requirement for government employees who happen to be attorneys or create a problem in determining when a District of Columbia employee not employed as an attorney was engaged in “functionally equivalent” work. Furthermore, the Court found that the evolution of the statutory language supported the determination that D.C. Code § l-301.83(a)(5)(D) requires the candidate to have been employed as an attorney.

Disposition

The Court affirmed the decision of the District of Columbia Board of Elections.

May 30, 2022
McDuffie v. D.C. Board of Elections, et al., 22-AA-276 (D.C. Apr. 28, 2022)