Federal Court: SB 47 Restrictions on Petition Circulation Unconstitutional

Key features of Senate Bill 47 “reform” violate First Amendment speech and associational rights of Ohioans, restrict free trade

iandrColumbus, OH – A federal court late yesterday enjoined the state from enforcing Senate Bill 47’s new limits on Ohioans’ Initiative and Referendum rights. Specifically, the Court held that Ohio’s new ban on Ohioans contracting with non-Ohioans to circulate initiative petitions violates Ohioans’ First Amendment Rights.

The ruling, made by Judge Watson of the Columbus division of the Southern District of Ohio, paves the way for Ohioans advancing the Workplace Freedom Amendment and other freedom-oriented ballot issues to resume association and contracts with professional out-of-state signature gatherers.

The legal action was filed on behalf of Ohioans for Workplace Freedom and Cincinnati for Pension Reform. OWF is currently gathering signatures to place a right-to-work amendment before voters; and CPR incurred significant additional last-minute costs attempting to utilize only in-state petitioners.

In his 27 page decision, Judge Watson, explained that “petition circulation – whether for candidates or issues – constitutes core political speech protected by the First Amendment,” and “laws prohibiting nonresidents from acting as petition circulators significantly burden political speech because they substantially reduce the number of petition circulators and are therefore subject to strict scrutiny.”

The Order concluded as follows: “The Court holds that Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that R.C. 3503.06(C)(1)(a) violates the First Amendment because it substantially burdens core political speech and is not narrowly tailored to serve Ohio’s compelling interest in curbing fraud in the election process.”

The lawsuit sought to restore Ohioans freedom to contract or associate with any and all American citizens to convey their message and advance their issue to the ballot. The lawsuit further seeks to invalidate the prohibition, applicable only to those associated with the issue, on gathering signatures during certain critical periods.

“We’re grateful for the Court’s thorough ruling. This Act is a set of back-door tactics to effectively eliminate initiative and referendum in Ohio, by eliminating many of those who do the actual work of gathering signatures on important issues” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“Initiative and referendum supply an important check on arbitrary government, and also supply citizens with the opportunity to act as civic adults – – taking the lawmaking power into their own hands rather than begging the legislature for change.”

The only attempt at using exclusively in-state circulators since the new statute’s enactment, a referendum effort on behalf of internet sweepstakes businesses, had failed dramatically, with less than 37 percent of submitted signatures found to be valid.

Read the Court’s Order Granting Ohioans for Workplace Freedom’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.

 

March 16, 2015: Columbus Dispatch: Judge finds Husted liable for enforcing unconstitutional law

Legal Center Moves to Protect Ohioans’ Initiative and Referendum Rights from Legislative Suppression

Key features of Senate Bill 47 “reform” violate Ohio Constitution and First Amendment speech and associational rights, restrict free trade

iandrColumbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today moved in federal court to immediately enjoin the state from enforcing Senate Bill 47’s new limits on Ohioans’ initiative and referendum rights.  The legislation, which became effective in June, restricts Ohioans from working with anyone other than an Ohio resident when gathering signatures to place a ballot issue before voters, and prohibits certain Ohioans from gathering signatures during critical periods.

Secretary of State Jon Husted indicated in July that he intended to fully enforce the new regulations, throwing numerous petitioning efforts into disarray.

The legal action is filed on behalf of Ohioans for Workplace Freedom and Cincinnati for Pension Reform.  OWF is currently gathering signatures to place a right-to-work amendment before voters; and CPR incurred significant additional last-minute costs attempting to utilize only in-state petitioners.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that the First Amendment applies to the gathering of signatures to place issues on the ballot, characterizing it as “core political speech.”  Nevertheless, Ohio legislators have vigorously sought to limit these rights, which circumvent the legislative and executive branch.

Senate Bill 47 establishes an absolute prohibition of signature-gathering by anyone not residing in Ohio.  This prohibits Ohioans from contracting with out-of-staters, even though there are virtually no Ohio businesses that offer petition circulation.  Ohioans are also prohibited from seeking assistance from volunteers who do not reside in Ohio.

Legislators exempted themselves from these restrictions, creating an exception to candidate-nominating petitions.

The lawsuit seeks to restore Ohioans freedom to contract or associate with any and all American citizens to convey their message and advance their issue to the ballot.  The lawsuit further seeks to invalidate the prohibition, applicable only to those associated with the issue, on gathering signatures during certain critical periods.

“SB 47 consists of a set of back-door mechanisms that have the effect of eliminating initiative and referendum in Ohio, expunging the average citizen from participating in the political process without the assistance of politicians, and strengthening politicians’ monopoly on lawmaking,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“Initiative and referendum supply an important check on arbitrary government, and also supply citizens with the opportunity to act as civic adults – – taking the lawmaking power into their own hands, rather than begging the legislature for change, and debating the issues, rather than the merits of a candidate’s personality.  And as with all regulations, the politically-powerful will find a way to be heard, whether through paying the higher costs or simply lobbying legislators more – – it’s the average Ohioan that Senate Bill 47 leaves out in the cold.”

These heightened tactics, which dramatically drive up the cost of ballot drives by reducing the supply of eligible signature gatherers, would effectively end grassroots freedom-oriented ballot drives such as that of the Workplace Freedom Amendment.


Read Citizens in Charge’s Complaint HERE.

Read Citizens in Charge’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.

Read 1851’s recent Testimony to the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, defending Ohioans Initiative and Referendum rights, HERE.

October 5, 2013: The Toledo Blader: Guarding Ohio’s referendum process

September 20, 2013: Plain Dealer: Conservative groups cry foul over Ohio’s new restrictions on referendum petitions