Kenyan McDuffie is pivoting to a run for an at-large council seat after his attorney general bid didn't work out. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

The D.C. Board of Elections ruled Monday that Kenyan McDuffie does not meet the statutory qualifications to be the District’s next attorney general, a major blow to his campaign to replace the outgoing Karl Racine.

Following a hearing on a challenge that one of his opponents, Bruce Spiva, filed, the board rejected McDuffie’s argument that his job as the Ward 5 councilmember counts as being “actively engaged” as an attorney, as D.C. law requires.

The law requires the D.C. attorney general to be “actively engaged” as a practicing attorney in D.C., a judge in D.C., a professor of law in D.C., or an attorney employed by the local or federal government for five of the previous 10 years. McDuffie is a trained lawyer and is licensed in D.C. He clerked for a judge in Prince George’s County before becoming a prosecutor there. He also worked in the civil rights division for the Department of Justice, but left that job before running in the Ward 5 primary in 2010. He’s represented Ward 5 on the Council since 2012.

McDuffie’s attorney, Thorn Pozen, argued the board should interpret the law in a way that is inclusive, rather than exclusive. Pozen said during the hearing before the three-member Board of Elections that McDuffie “is undeniably an attorney, and is employed in the District and by the District.”

In a statement released Monday afternoon, McDuffie says he will appeal the board’s decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals. McDuffie’s statement says the “frivolous challenge from a corporate lawyer” amounts to an “attack on our democracy and on working people in DC.”

He references a letter to the editor in the Washington Post from former councilmembers David Catania and Bill Lightfoot, who had a hand in crafting the statutory language. The letter calls Spiva’s challenge a “cynical distraction” and says McDuffie’s good standing with the D.C. Bar and service as a councilmember qualifies him for the attorney general’s office.

The BOE’s ruling, if allowed to stand, eliminates one of the major contenders for the role of District’s elected lawyer. Spiva, a former partner at Perkins Coie, would face off against Venable partner Brian Schwalb, who has Racine’s endorsement, and Ryan Jones, a solo practitioner who represented the D.C. Chamber of Commerce in a fight over legal fees.

Update, 3:30 p.m.

This article has been updated with comments from Kenyan McDuffie.