Most restrictions placed on the citizen initiative process by state legislators are vulnerable to federal court challenge on First Amendment grounds. Citizens in Charge Foundation will launch a national campaign to roll-back unconstitutional provisions of state law holding back citizen use of initiatives, referendums and recalls.
As the only national organization dedicated to protecting the process, Citizens in Charge Foundation will triage the nation’s petition regulations to determine the most important challenges.
- Our first priority is to overturn any new attack on initiative rights.
This year, unconstitutional impediments have passed in Arizona, Colorado and Oregon. Citizens in Charge Foundation is pressing federal court challenges to overturn the unconstitutional provisions in each of these new laws.
This legal effort also benefits our broader political strategy of raising the “cost” to legislators seeking to undermine citizen initiative rights. Citizens in Charge, our advocacy organization, will publicize the legislative sponsors of these anti-initiative measures, not only educating their constituents as to their assaults against basic democratic means, but also informing citizens as to the legal cost to taxpayers to defend these unconstitutional laws.
- Our second priority is to challenge older restrictions according to (a) the damage they do, and (b) our likelihood of success in court.
The Foundation is now pursuing lawsuits against existing unconstitutional laws in Alaska, Nebraska, Nevada and Ohio. The cases have already been filed in Nevada (challenging the state’s single subject rule) and in Ohio (suing the arbitrary ballot title process for referendums). We are working to file suit soon in Alaska (to overturn the state’s residency requirement and a limit on per signature payments to petitioners) and in Nebraska (challenging a residency requirement and other restrictions).
Currently, unconstitutional statutes that minimize the initiative process often stay on the books for years, mostly due to the cost of litigation in federal court. Seriously pursuing a legal complaint means taking the case through the federal district court and the federal circuit court of appeals. Depending on the specifics of the case, the cost usually runs between $150,000 and $250,000.
Citizens in Charge Foundation can sue for less. We have begun to build a nationwide network of pro-initiative, First Amendment attorneys. We’ve also established relationships with a number of prominent national legal organizations, including the Institute for Justice, the Center for Competitive Politics, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Several top-notch litigators have agreed to work on cases pro bono, thus our costs amount to only court fees and the cost of travel for witnesses. Others have agreed to cut their fees in half or more. When working with the ACLU – in Nebraska, for instance – there is no cost to us at all.
Already, Citizens in Charge Foundation has played a critical role in significant legal victories to protect the right to petition. Now is the time to press our legal advantage, both to further open up the process for citizen use and to help politically undermine future legislative attacks against initiative rights.