Federal appeals court sets hearing for Oregon, Idaho initiative cases
A federal appeals court is set to hear Oregon's argument against a reduced threshold of signatures that a judge has allowed for advocates of a Nov. 3 ballot measure to set up an independent redistricting commission.
A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled oral arguments on Aug. 13 in the Oregon case and a similar lawsuit in Idaho. Both cases involve whether the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down public life, resulted in violations of federal free-expression guarantees.
In the Oregon case, Judge Michael McShane ruled July 13 in favor of the initiative advocates People Not Politicians, who had gathered about 64,000 of the 149,360 signatures required to qualify their proposed constitutional amendment for a statewide vote. McShane decided in U.S. District Court in Eugene that Secretary of State Bev Clarno accept the signatures submitted by the regular deadline of July 2 — and put the measure on the ballot — or give advocates until Aug. 17 to submit a valid number equal to 39% of the requirement in the Oregon Constitution.
Clarno opted for the latter course.
But Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum proceeded with an appeal. She argued that McShane's order effectively superseded the state constitutional requirement, which is 8% of the votes cast for governor in the most recent election (2018).
Rosenblum lost her bid July 23 for an emergency stay of McShane's order.
The three-judge appeals panel will meet in Anchorage, Alaska, to consider the Oregon case and a related case in Idaho, where U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill granted a request by a citizen group to allow more time for electronic signature-gathering for its initiative. The group, Reclaim Idaho, sued Gov. Brad Little in support of a ballot measure to increase taxes on businesses and higher-income households to generate more money for schools.
A public hearing was conducted by Oregon officials Friday, July 31, on proposed explanatory and fiscal impact statements for the redistricting measure — assuming it qualifies for the ballot — and the two legislative referrals and two other initiative measures that already have qualified.
The Oregon redistricting measure would set up a 12-member commission to redraw legislative and congressional district boundaries after every 10-year population census.
The Legislature now has those tasks. 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.
Although 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 — the People Not Politicians coalition seeks to change the entire process.
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.
Four members from Oregon's two largest political parties — currently the Democratic and Republican parties — would hold eight seats on the proposed redistricting commission. Four others would come from the smaller parties or no party. Major political-party or candidate donors, public officials, party officials and family members would be ineligible.
California, Washington and Arizona moved toward independent redistrict commissions in 2010, and Arizona's process withstood a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016.
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