Apr 18, 2022 - Politics

Kenyan McDuffie ineligible for D.C. AG, Board of Elections rules

Kenyan McDuffie at the D.C. Council dais

Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The D.C. Board of Elections ruled on Monday that council member Kenyan McDuffie does not qualify for the attorney general position, a stunning decision the candidate said he would appeal in court.

Why it matters: The board's decision jolts the race to become the city's second-ever elected attorney general, booting a leading candidate in the Democratic primary who outraised his three challengers.

  • The board sided with one of the candidates, Bruce Spiva, a former Perkins Coie law firm partner, who filed a challenge claiming the Ward 5 council member did not meet the job's requirement because he was not an "actively engaged" attorney.

State of play: Hours after the decision, McDuffie denounced the ruling as "an attack on our democracy" and said he would go to the D.C. Court of Appeals, "where we expect to win on appeal."

  • If the appeal fails, it would also be a boost to the other two candidates, Brian Schwalb, who has been a partner at Venable and earned the endorsement of incumbent attorney general Karl Racine, and Ryan Jones, who started his own law firm in 2014.

Details: In his challenge, Spiva argued McDuffie did not meet the statute's requirement that he be “actively engaged” as an attorney employed by the city or federal government — “for at least 5 of the 10 years immediately preceding the assumption of the position of Attorney General.”

What they're saying: “When I read the statute … I read it to require more than a candidate being a member in good standing of the bar and an employee of the District of Columbia. It’s got to include something more than that, namely that person must be actively engaged as an attorney," said Gary Thompson, chair of the three-member board, after privately deliberating on arguments from lawyers representing both campaigns.

The other side: Lawyers for McDuffie had unsuccessfully argued that the lawmaker was actively engaged as an attorney through his council work, including authoring legislation enacting sweeping reforms to the criminal justice system.

Between the lines: After a decade on the D.C. Council where he now chairs the top business committee, McDuffie declined to run for re-election to enter the attorney general's race. He had secured several labor endorsements.

  • Two former council members had vouched for McDuffie's eligibility. David Catania and Bill Lightfoot, who were early leaders of the movement to create an independent, elected attorney general, wrote in the Washington Post that Spiva's challenge was a "cynical distraction and meritless."

Editor's note: This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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