Thursday, February 23, 2006

9th Circuit upholds M26: no petition signature payments

The Ninth Circuit gives progressive activist in Oregon a major victory:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld Oregon's ban on paying ballot initiative signature gatherers by the number of signatures they obtain.

The appeals court ruled that the restriction did not impose a "severe burden" on the First Amendment rights of ballot initiative chief petitioners.

Affirming a ruling by U.S. District Judge Ann L. Aiken in Portland, a three-judge panel of the appeals court said the state had "an important regulatory interest" in preventing fraud in the initiative process. The panel found that those who challenged the pay-by-the-signature ban had failed to prove that it would reduce the pool of petition circulators in Oregon, increase the cost of signature gathering or lead to higher rates of invalid signatures on petitions.

We at LO have been churning up the pixel time posting about initiative signature gathering.

Here is the ruling (warning: PDF).

The Ninth provides a pretty definitive smackdown of the argument against 26, chiefly that M26 violated the First Amendment of the Constitution. In a nutshell, the court found that there is no violation of free speech when states enact reasonable regulations on the election process.

The court offered insight into how it makes decisions on the First Amendment:

For purposes of determining whether a state election law violates an individual's First Amendment rights, we:

weigh the character and magnitude of the burden the State's rule imposes on those rights against the interest the State contends justify that burden, and consider the extent to which the State's concerns make the burden necessary. Regulations imposing severe burdens on plaintiffs rights must be narrowly tailored and advance a compelling state interest. Lesser burdens, however, trigger less exacting review, and a State's important regulatory interests will usually be enough to justify reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions

In a nutshell: if the election regulation can be justified based on legitimate concerns, doesn't discriminate and doesn't provide an undue burden--it doesn't violate the First Amendment.

There are other, more wonky parts to the decision that I don't want to comment on--most because that kind of legalspeak makes my eyes glaze over. I 'll leave that to TJ, who seems to gain a perverse pleasure from such reading.

This decision should go a long way to cleaning up the petition process. Next perhaps we can find a way to better regulate the financing of initiatives. Although I don't know how it can be done without the SCOTUS finding it unconstitutional.