Idaho Supreme Court says new ballot initiative law violates state constitution
Court blocks new law and rules ballot initiatives are a fundamental right of Idahoans
The Idaho Supreme Court building in Boise on March 20, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
In a new ruling Monday, the Idaho Supreme Court blocked the implementation of a new ballot initiative law that opponents said would have made it nearly impossible to bring a ballot initiative or referendum forward.
Writing for a majority of the court, Idaho Supreme Court Justice Gregory W. Moeller wrote that the ballot initiative law requiring signatures from 6% of voters in all 35 legislative districts violates the Idaho Constitution “because the initiative and referendum powers are fundamental rights, reserved to the people of Idaho, to which strict scrutiny applies.”
“We conclude that the (Secretary of State) and the Legislature have failed to represent a compelling state interest for limiting that right,” Moeller wrote in the 55-page ruling.
The court blocked the new law, Senate Bill 1110, from taking effect. The court also restored the previous signature gathering requirement, which is for signatures from 6% of voters in at least 18 legislative districts, as well as signatures equal to or greater than 6% of the state’s over registered voters at the time of the last general election.
Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robyn M. Brody wrote she agreed with the court’s conclusion Senate Bill 1110 is unconstitutional. Brody offered a little bit of a different viewpoint than the majority of justices, writing that she found the law unconstitutional because it is not “reasonable and workable.”
“SB 1110 is not reasonable and workable,” Brody wrote. “I agree wholeheartedly with the court’s conclusion that SB 1110 gives every legislative district in the state veto power and turns a perceived fear of ‘tyranny of the majority’ into an actual ‘tyranny of the minority.’ I would invalidate SB 1110 on that ground.”
The ruling represents a victory for Reclaim Idaho, the volunteer-driven political group behind the 2018 Medicaid expansion effort in Idaho.
Reclaim Idaho said new law made it too hard to get initiatives on Idaho ballot
Reclaim Idaho sued the state in May, saying the new ballot initiative law makes it near impossible to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot because of the requirement to gather signatures from the most rural and isolated corners of the state.
Reclaim Idaho organizers said the ruling will protect the initiative and referendum process by guaranteeing it will be available to future generations.
“It’s an historic day because the court has not only struck down the anti-initiative law, they have recognized the initiative process as a fundamental right of the people of Idaho,” Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville told the Idaho Capital Sun in a telephone interview. “This means that it will be very difficult for the Legislature to dismantle or even attempt to dismantle the initiative process in the future.”
Under the Idaho Constitution, an initiative is the process for the people to propose and vote on laws, independent of Legislature, at the polls. A referendum is the process of approving or rejecting at the polls any law or measure passed by the Legislature.
Mayville also issued a separate written statement about the ruling.
“Thousands of Idahoans are breathing a sigh of relief today,” Mayville wrote in the statement. “In the face of an assault on the initiative process by the Idaho Legislature, our Supreme Court has fulfilled its obligation to protect the rights of every Idahoan.”
The Idaho Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on June 29.
“Whatever the legal test is, the heart of this case is the severe burden SB 1110 requires with no true purpose,” Deborah Furguson, Reclaim Idaho’s attorney, argued in court. “The Legislature’s purpose is only pretext.”
In Monday’s ruling, the Idaho Supreme Court also awarded attorney’s fees to Reclaim Idaho and allowed it to recover its legal costs.
In a telephone interview Monday night, Ferguson called the ruling “a great victory for the people of Idaho.”
“This is very historic,” Ferguson said. “The court has declared the right of the citizens to make or repeal law through the Constitution a fundamental right. Because it is a fundamental right under our Constitution it is applied strict scrutiny.”
House Speaker Bedke disappointed with Supreme Court ruling
In a written statement Monday afternoon, Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, expressed disappointment with the ruling, writing that the ruling limits the voice of rural Idahoans.
“These changes to the voter referendum/initiative process would’ve served to increase voter involvement and inclusivity, especially in the corners of the state too often forgotten by some,” Bedke wrote. “We believe that all the 35 legislative districts, every part of Idaho, should be included in this important process, unfortunately, the Supreme Court apparently disagrees.”
In a written statement, Idaho Democrats applauded the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision to block the new ballot initiative law.
“This bill never should have been passed in the first place as it was in clear violation of the ballot initiative rights established in the Idaho Constitution,” House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said. “Elected representatives should be working to protect the people’s constitutional rights, not take those rights away as the Idaho GOP did here.”
With the ballot initiative case behind them, Reclaim Idaho organizers and volunteers are moving forward gathering signatures for a new education ballot initiative they hope to get on the November 2022 ballots. The Quality Education Act would raise more than $300 million annually for education by increasing the corporate income tax and raising income taxes on individuals making more than $250,000 per year.
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