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"Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."

Martin Luther King Jr


For over 40 years DC’s budget process meant costly delays and humiliating Congressional meddling. But because of DC Appleseed’s advocacy for budget autonomy, the city now has a streamlined budget approach that minimizes Congressional interference.

The District’s1973 Home Rule Charter created a budget process that required DC to send a local spending plan to Congress which became part of the federal budget. This forced the budget process to be drawn out. Delays in passing a federal budget kept the District from spending locally raised tax dollars and paying numerous bills until Congress passed the federal budget. Not being a reliable creditor was costly for the District. Congressional House Committee on Appropriations debates about the DC budget made it easy for members of Congress to attach hundreds of humiliating riders which prevented the District from spending local funds on local needs.

DC Appleseed developed the rationale to establish budget autonomy for DC and in 2012 persuaded the DC Council to authorize the referendum that would amend the Home Rule Charter. In April of 2013, 83 percent of DC voters approved the amendment, giving the mayor and the DC Council the authority to approve all local spending and establish a fiscal calendar that meets the needs of the District. The amendment also freed the District from the threat of a shutdown caused by the failure of Congress to pass a federal budget. Unfortunately, the Mayor at that time thought the amendment was illegal and refused to implement it. The Council sued the city’s executive branch and was supported by DC Appleseed’s amicus brief. In the spring of 2016, a DC Superior Court ruling declared the April 2013 referendum legal. According to Judge Brian Holeman, the Budget Autonomy referendum allows the District to “spend its money as long as Congress doesn’t say no.”

Muriel Bowser, who had been elected Mayor in 2014, welcomed the ruling. Since 2016, the DC government has managed its budget according to the autonomy established by the 2013 charter amendment.


Staff Contact: Walter SmithDanielle Burs

Pro Bono Partners: Goldblatt Martin Pozen LLP; Latham & Watkins LLP; Perkins Coie LLP; Troutman Sanders LLP; Mayer Brown LLP; Boies Schiller LLP

"Together, we make our future."

Stacey Abrams



Today, DC’s Attorney General is widely recognized as one of the city’s most important elected officials. The major reason that we now have an elected, independent attorney general is DC Appleseed’s advocacy.


For the first 40 years of our Home Rule government, DC’s chief legal officer was appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council. As part of our quest to increase democracy in and for the District, DC Appleseed developed the language and advocated for a 2010 charter amendment which called for an elected attorney general who would take office in 2015. After the amendment was approved by over 75% of DC’s voters, potential candidates and DC residents looked forward to the election of an attorney general in 2014 However, the DC Council voted in 2012 to delay the election until 2018. Attorney Paul Zukerberg, who was eager to be a candidate, sued the Council and the Board of Elections, claiming that delaying the election for attorney general was a violation of the DC charter. DC Appleseed supported Zukerburg’s claim and filed an amicus brief.

In June of 2014, the DC Court of Appeals upheld Zukerberg’s claim and ordered the DC Board of Elections to hold the election that year. On November 4, 2014 DC voters chose the city’s first elected attorney general.


"As a profession, we are defending the rule of law ... as a revolutionary ideal - as fundamental as democracy itself - as timeless as the principle of justice - as current as the latest Supreme Court decision."

Sargent Shriver

Staff Contact: Walter SmithDanielle Burs

Pro Bono Partners: Gary Thompson, Arent Fox LLP, Merril Hirsch, and Latham & Watkins LLP

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Protecting DC residents from gun violence is a top priority for DC Appleseed. Our efforts involve both litigation and local advocacy.

We have supported DC in defending local gun safety laws in the courts and against Congressional interference. Since the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in Heller v. District of Columbia, which struck down the District’s ban on handguns in the home, Appleseed has supported the city’s efforts to enact sensible gun regulations consistent with the Heller decision. For example, we advocated for DC’s “Red Flag” law, which makes it possible to remove guns from potentially dangerous people.

Litigation remains part of our work. Since our amicus brief supporting DC in the landmark Heller case, we have continued to file amicus briefs in legal challenges to the city’s gun laws. Violence interruption is a more recent focus of our gun safety efforts. Our work with local groups and city officials includes identifying best practices and compiling critical information about the gun violence that has occurred in our community.


Staff Contact: Walter SmithDanielle Burs

Pro Bono Partners: Hughes, Hubbard & Reed; Arent Fox LLP; Arnold & Porter; Fulbright & Jaworski LLP; Hogan Lovells LLP; and WilmerHale



DC Appleseed is determined to end taxation without representation for DC residents. To make this happen, we are pursuing both Congressional voting rights and DC statehood. 

In the early years of the 21st century, DC Appleseed worked with DC Vote and Republican Tom Davis from Northern Virginia to develop legislation that came to be known as the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act. It called for adding two seats to the House: one for the overwhelmingly Democratic District and another for the next state in line to pick up a representative, Republican-leaning Utah. The legislation had bipartisan support but unfortunately, but when it was passed by the Senate, it also acquired an amendment that would have repealed all of DC’s current gun laws and prevented the District from enacting any future gun regulation. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the House sponsor of the legislation, tried for a year to get the amendment removed, but in 2010, the NRA was powerful enough to keep it on the bill. Finally, at Delegate Norton’s request, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer withdrew the legislation. 

In 2016, Mayor Muriel Bowser decided to launch an initiative to put DC statehood on the ballot, and she turned to DC Appleseed to help draft the timely constitution which was approved by 87 percent of DC voters in November of that year.

In 2019, DC Appleseed and our pro bono legal team filed suit against Congress on behalf of DC residents. The suit claimed that Congress has the authority to grant DC residents full voting representation and that the failure of Congress to grant that right violates the residents’ constitutional rights. When that first court rejected the claim, we decided to appeal to the Supreme Court. Our appeal has strong support from the amicus briefs filed by the House of Representatives, groups of historians, law professors, leading attorneys and bar organizations. 

DC Appleseed is currently working with the Mayor’s office on plans for the 51st state’s criminal justice system. For the past 20 years, DC residents convicted of felonies have become federal prisoners. When statehood becomes a reality, DC will transition to managing our own criminal justice system.


Staff Contact: Walter Smith, Danielle Burs

Pro Bono Partners: Arent Fox LLP; Latham & Watkins LLP; Perkins Coie LLP; Sidley Austin LLP; Uber; Hogan Lovells LLP; Hughes Hubbard & Reed; Professor Alan Morrison; Wilmer Hale LLP; Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP

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