Advocates get more time to qualify redistricting initiative at lower threshold
Advocates will have until Aug. 17 to gather a reduced number of signatures to qualify their initiative measure for an independent redistricting commission in Oregon.
But the legal battle isn't over.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, on a 2-1 vote announced Thursday, rejected a request by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum for an emergency stay. She had sought to block part of a July 13 order in U.S. District Court that allows the advocates to proceed with signature gathering toward the reduced total.
The appeals court will have an expedited hearing, but its calendar does not list a date yet.
The upshot is that the People Not Politicians coalition will have until Aug. 17 to submit more signatures to qualify their initiative measure for the Nov. 3 ballot. The coalition estimated that advocates had gathered about 64,000 signatures in a month before the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a shutdown of most business activity and public life.
The measure would set up a 12-member commission, four members from each of Oregon's two major parties and four others registered with other parties or not affiliated with any party. The commission, rather than the Legislature, would draw boundaries of state legislative and federal congressional districts after each 10-year census. Major political-party or candidate donors, public officials, party officials and family members would be ineligible.
But the appeals court will consider the state's appeal of a reduced threshold that District Judge Michael McShane set out in his order. It sets a requirement of 58,789 verified signatures, about 39% of the constitutional requirement of 149,360. The Constitution sets 8% of the votes cast in the most recent election for governor (2018) as the requirement for a proposed constitutional amendment to qualify.
Chief Judge Sidney Thomas and Judge Mary Schroeder voted against Oregon's request for a stay but offered no written opinion. Judge Consuelo Callahan dissented.
"The appellant has made a strong showing that adherence to Oregon's constitutionally mandated signature threshold for ballot initiatives either does not implicate the First Amendment at all or does not do so in a way that runs afoul of the appellees' rights," Callahan wrote.
Thomas is an appointee of President Bill Clinton, and Schroeder is an appointee of President Jimmy Carter; she has senior status. Callahan is an appointee of President George W. Bush.
Secretary of State Bev Clarno had already proceeded with another part of McShane's order, which gave her the choice of allowing more time for signature gathering or putting the measure on the ballot outright. She deferred to Rosenblum to pursue an appeal related to the threshold.
Rosenblum argued that McShane's order effectively amended the Oregon Constitution and called into question states' ability to set requirements for elections.
But advocates said they followed the usual course of trying to qualify by the normal means until the pandemic hit.
"People Not Politicians engaged in an extraordinarily energetic and creative effort to gather signatures safely during a pandemic," Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon, said in a statement Thursday. "We hope the court ultimately lets the public decide whether everyday Oregonians — not politicians — should draw our legislative and congressional districts."
Among the coalition members are the League of Women Voters of Oregon, Common Cause Oregon, Oregon Farm Bureau Federation, Eugene/Springfield NAACP, Independent Party and Progressive Party.
Under Oregon's current system, if lawmakers fail to pass a legislative redistricting plan by July 1 after the census year, the task falls to the secretary of state. The Supreme Court hears any challenges to the plan; the new districts must take effect by Dec. 15. If lawmakers fail to pass a congressional redistricting plan, the task falls to the U.S. District Court, which chooses among plans submitted to the court.
The 2011 Legislature completed both redistricting plans without a legal challenge — the first time in a century for legislative redistricting, and the first since 1980 for congressional redistricting.
NOTE: Corrects the description of the appeals court action to reflect the panel's rejection of Oregon's request for an emergency stay; the court will hear Oregon's appeal at an expedited hearing on a date to be set.
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