WSBA Board Member Bill Viall Weighs In on the Board’s R-74 Decision
A year ago, with a very small percentage of the lawyers in my district participating in the election (less than 10 percent) and with a very tiny margin of victory (less than 10 votes), I was humbly elected to serve the Bar and the public, a job I take seriously. The last sentence of Lincoln’s second Inaugural has always been my guide and personal credo when serving the public: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.”
As has been communicated, at our September Board meeting there was a motion passed to support the R-74 campaign. However, I voted “no” on the Board taking a position and because the vote was split, I think it’s important you hear perspectives from both sides of that vote.
In recent years, the Board of Governor’s has broadly interpreted the meaning of “the practice of law and administration of justice” in the context of lobbying the legislature and advising elected officials and in 2008, in that context adopted a policy supporting marriage equality.
In my opinion, the Board’s recent vote to support R-74 was a step too far. The right of Referendum is reserved by our state constitution to the people. In my view, the Bar is not given the power to take a political position on an issue subject to the vote of the people. I believe we should be taking our lead from the State Supreme Court, which is to remain silent on this issue or any other such political issue and let the voters decide per the constitution.
I also believe that the method for consideration prior to our vote was not procedurally sufficient. We had less than 24 hours to give notice to our constituents that this issue would be put before us for a vote.
It is also difficult for me to ignore that the Listening Tour conducted by President Steve Crossland and Executive Director Paula Littlewood resulted in the delivery of some clear messages, one of which was that the great majority of those they spoke with on the tour believed that WSBA should stick to its core functions of licensing, discipline, and the betterment of law.
Finally, I want to reiterate that my “no” vote had nothing to do with endorsing or not endorsing same-sex marriage. I don’t believe that’s the issue. The issues are whether this action lies within the purview of our power and authority and whether it is in the best interest of the bar and the public for the WSBA to take a position. In my opinion, the answer to both is clearly no.