Blocking Initiatives

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John Fund explores the growing tendency of judges blocking initiatives and referendums from state ballots. (I covered a similar analysis by Thomas Bray earlier this month here.) Fund doesn't approach it in exactly the same way, but the results are pretty much the same: judges are limiting ways to get around ossified legislatures when they will not act in accordance with the electorate's wishes. This is a very bad sign. The left is essentially taking away a tool that is extremely useful to all citizens, regardless of political affiliation.

Direct democracy in the 24 states that allow it often makes government function when arrogant, self-absorbed legislatures are gridlocked. Voters in several states have imposed term limits and curbed bilingual education and racial quotas, hot-button issues legislators often shrink from tackling. Liberals have used initiatives to pass minimum-wage hikes and tobacco taxes that were often blocked by legislatures where powerful lobbyists hold sway.

Establishment forces have long resented that initiatives allow voters to do an end run around them and are always looking for ways to limit them. Florida's Legislature put a measure on next month's ballot that would require a 60% supermajority for passing all future constitutional amendments. Such a barrier would discourage many groups from even trying to qualify measures. In Massachusetts, more than 170,000 voters signed petitions for a ballot measure against same-sex marriage. But the Legislature, which is required to vote on initiatives before they reach the ballot, is trying to avoid holding a vote. House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi has urged his colleagues to make sure the issue marriage "never, ever appears as a question on the ballot."

But the biggest threat to initiatives comes from the courts, which are striking measures from the ballot with abandon. The Florida Supreme Court, infamous for its creative rulings in the 2000 recount, has removed a proposed measure creating a nonpartisan commission to redraw the state's gerrymandered legislative districts on the grounds it deals with more than one subject.

In Oklahoma and Nevada, measures restricting government's powers of eminent domain and restricting land use were either removed or gutted on single-subject grounds. In Montana, an initiative limiting growth in the state's budget to increases in population and inflation was declared invalid because it authorized judges to modify the spending cap. A district judge ruled that provision represented a second subject.

Many of these legal rulings are forcing off "conservative" initiatives (not all). What the people pushing these methods fail to understand is that the rulings set precedent. Eventually, that will come back to bite them later. That is not a good thing. The other thing that Fund reveals that is highly troubling is union involvement in trying to block initiatives:

Sometimes lower-level government officials actively prevent the gathering of signatures. In Nebraska, a group seeking to put a spending cap on the ballot expected to face union-paid "blockers" who would yell at and otherwise intimidate people being asked to sign petitions as well as robo-calls warning voters that signature gatherers might engage in identity theft.

What they didn't expect was that unionized police forces in Omaha and Lincoln would deny signature gatherers the right to work outside driver's license bureaus, libraries and the public sidewalks that lead to private buildings. Some police officers would even threaten petitioners going door to door with arrest, saying they first needed a permit to "solicit." A federal judge had to issue a temporary restraining order stipulating the right to collect signatures outside public buildings and on sidewalks. Freed from harassment, spending-cap proponents collected over a third of the necessary signatures in just a week and qualified for the ballot.

This is an unconscionable abuse of authority being exercised at the direction of union officials who are not elected by the public. This is a very bad thing in the long run. Read the whole thing, if the trend continues it will be harder and harder to get around the ruling class of political elites. That is not something we need in the nation.

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