Federal judge rules challenge to Colorado tax law may continue

[JURIST] On Friday, a judge for the United Stated Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] ruled [text, pdf] that a challenge to Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) [text] could continue. The plaintiffs in the suit, consisting of 33 lawmakers, argue that TABOR is unconstitutional [Denver Post report] because it limits state spending and bars lawmakers from raising taxes without a public referendum, violating the US Constitution [Cornell LII materials] guarantee that every state is to have a republican form of government rather than a direct democracy. In rejecting the state's claims that the plaintiffs lack standing, Judge Lucero wrote:

The merits of the case are not before us. We express no view on the substantive issues and intend none. We consider solely standing and the political question doctrine: whether these plaintiffs have suffered particularized injury not widely shared by the general populace that entitles them to have their case heard by the federal courts . . . We conclude that these plaintiffs may bring their claims and that the political doctrine question does not bar our consideration.
The merits of the lawsuit will be addressed by the lower court unless the state decides to continue to appeal the standing issue.

The result of this lawsuit could potentially have an impact on other challenges to similar legislation in other states that have passed similar referendum requirements for tax issues. For example, California's Taxpayer Bill of Rights [backgrounder, PDF], which requires two-thirds approval by a referendum before any local government can levy a tax designed to raise revenue for a specific purpose, could face a challenge. The US District Court for the District of Colorado [official website] originally allowed [JURIST report] Colorado's legislators to challenge TABOR in January of 2012, giving rise to the most recent appeal in this case.

 

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