News Articles

Ballot-initiative restrictions overturned by Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court has handed a victory to the ballot-initiative movement, which has often featured ethical issues in statewide elections.
The high court overturned restrictions adopted by the state of Colorado requiring people who circulate petitions to wear identification badges, be registered voters and file reports disclosing the names of paid circulators and their salaries. The justices voted 8-1 in favor of rescinding the badge requirements and 6-3 in striking down the other two provisions.
In recent years, ballot initiatives have become widely used in some states in attempting to adopt measures apart from legislatures. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia permit citizens to pass initiatives to enact laws or amend the their respective constitutions. Some states have sought to limit this trend by adopting restrictions.
While initiatives have dealt with a variety of issues, they frequently have featured controversial ethical issues, such as abortion, assisted suicide, gambling and homosexuality. One of the best-known such initiatives was Amendment 2, a 1992 referendum passed by Colorado’s voters that prohibited state or local governments from granting civil rights status to homosexuality. The high court later overturned the initiative.
In ruling against three of Colorado’s restrictions on those seeking to collect signatures to place an initiative on the ballot, the Supreme Court said they were unconstitutional limits on political speech.
The First Amendment “requires us to be vigilant in making those judgments, to guard against undue hindrances to political conversations and the exchange of ideas.” The court ruled that “the restrictions in question significantly inhibit communication with voters about proposed political change, and are not warranted by state interests (administrative efficiency, fraud detection, informing voters) alleged to justify those restrictions,” Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the majority opinion released Jan. 12.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissented. He was joined by Associate Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Stephen Breyer in dissenting on two of the three provisions.
Associate Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, William Kennedy and David Souter joined in all of Ginsburg’s opinion. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the majority but wrote a concurring opinion to explain his reasoning.
Dane Waters, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute, said the decision would send “a clear message to state legislators that people do have the right to self-govern,” The Washington Post reported. Maurice Knaizer, deputy attorney general for Colorado, said the state adopted the restrictions “to protect the integrity of the system,” according to The Post. Knaizer said he expects more reports of fraud as a result of the decision, The Post reported.
According to USA Today, the states that allow initiatives are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
The case was Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation.