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Washington justices unanimously reject Inslee recall effort

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talks from a podium at a news conference. Secretary of Health Umair Shah is in the background.
Rachel La Corte
/
The Associated Press file
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, front, addresses reporters on Oct. 14, 2021 as Secretary of Health Umair Shah looks on.

SEATTLE (AP) — The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously rejected an effort to recall Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The justices upheld a Thurston County Superior Court decision that the charges made against Inslee did not provide factually or legally sufficient grounds to support a recall campaign.

The recall petition was brought by a citizen group called Washingtonians to Recall Insleee. It alleged that the governor’s orders limiting activities and gatherings during the pandemic interfered with their rights.

For example, the petition argued, Inslee violated the separation of powers by banning landlords from suing tenants for overdue rent; violated constitutional rights of assembly and to petition the government for redress of grievances by prohibiting public agencies from holding in-person meetings; and violated the right to assemble by limiting the size of in-person gatherings.

The court, however, found that Inslee’s proclamations were well within his emergency powers.

“Governor Inslee has used his discretion to navigate this pandemic, making difficult decisions in an effort to balance the health and safety of Washingtonians with their individual liberties," Justice Debra Stephens wrote for the court. "While reasonable minds may disagree with the governor’s discretionary decisions, such disagreement is insufficient to support a recall.”

The recall backers did not explain how a temporary limitation on the ability of landlords to sue their tenants infringed on the power of the courts; there were adequate alternative means, such as telephonic or online meetings, to ensure public access to government; and restrictions on gatherings were not directed at suppressing speech but “tailored to serve a substantial government interest,” the justices said.

Olympia resident C Davis, who brought the appeal of the superior court ruling last June, told The Associated Press on Thursday he had not yet read the Supreme Court opinion but the result was “not too much of a surprise.”

Washingtonians to Recall Inslee is ready to support another recall effort, by a different proponent, that will make three new charges against the governor, Davis said.

Washington faced one of the first known outbreaks of COVID-19 and was among the first states to implement sweeping restrictions in the early days of the pandemic. It has since eased or rescinded many restrictions, such as bans on large gatherings and vaccination requirements for such gatherings, while others, such as a mask requirement for healthcare settings, long-term care facilities and jails, remain in effect.

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