Ninth Circuit upholds denial of Oregon domestic partnership referendum

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Thursday that Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury [official profile] did not violate the constitutional rights of voters who signed a petition to hold a referendum on a state law [Oregon House Bill 2007, PDF] establishing same-sex domestic partnerships. Bradbury struck over 200 signatures from the petition after officials found that many of the signatures did not match those on voter registration cards. He then announced that the petition was approximately 100 signatures short of the required number. Voters were not permitted to contest the decision by introducing extrinsic evidence, and so signators brought suit, alleging violations of due process and equal protection guarantees. The Ninth Circuit held that any burden placed on the plaintiffs' fundamental right to vote was minimal and held that there had been no constitutional violations:

[T]he Secretary’s procedures already allow chief petitioners and members of the public to observe the signature verification process and challenge decisions by county elections officials. The value of additional procedural safeguards therefore
is negligible, and the burden on plaintiffs’ interests from the state’s failure to adopt their proposed procedures is slight at most.
Plaintiffs had unsuccessfully asserted that Oregon was required to provide them with an opportunity to "rehabilitate" the stricken signatures, and also argued that the lack of uniform statewide rules for verifying referendum signatures violated Bush v. Gore [Cornell case materials].

The US District Court for the District of Oregon [official website] ruled [AP report; JURIST report] in February that the domestic partnership law should be allowed to take effect after it was suspended [JURIST report] last December. Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed [JURIST report] the bill into law last May after it was passed by the Oregon House and the Oregon Senate [JURIST reports]. The law would have taken effect on January 1 of this year had there been no lawsuit.

 

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