Supreme court to debate constitutionality of term limits
June 25, 2008
The Nevada Supreme Court served notice late Wednesday it will take up the constitutionality of Nevada’s term limits rule next month.
The issue was announced in a four-page order setting proceedings in the case that challenges the candidacy of a laundry list of local public officials. The secretary of state directed county clerks to remove them from the ballot on grounds they’ve served the 12-year maximum time allowed in their offices. Those include longtime Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury and Nevada Regent Howard Rosenberg.
At issue is whether the election in 1996 count against the time they could hold an office since term limits were made part of the constitution that same year.
The long-standing interpretation has been that the 1996 election didn’t count. But Secretary of State Ross Miller and his elections deputy Matt Griffin ruled it does, and asked Washoe, Clark and other county clerks to pull from ballots names of officials elected in 1996 because they have served the maximum 12 years in that office.
The court’s order directed the parties involved, including the attorney general’s office, district attorneys and the challenged candidates to file “supplemental briefs addressing the term-limit amendment’s constitutional validity.”
The court set oral arguments in the case for July 14, concluding: “Argument shall be limited to the term-limit amendment’s constitutional validity.”
The validity of Nevada’s term limits provision has long been the subject of debate. The state constitution requires that any initiative petition amending the constitution be passed in exactly the same form ” down to the number on the ballot question ” in two consecutive general elections.
In the case of term limits, the original petition was passed by voters in 1994. But before the 1996 elections, the supreme court at that time divided the original question into two separate questions ” separating out the question of whether judges should be term limited into its own question.
The question dealing with all other Nevada public officials passed while the one dealing with judicial officers failed.
That decision by the high court in 1996 has long been cited by opponents of term limits as a violation of the constitutional requirements for presenting initiative petitions to the people. Simply put: It wasn’t presented to voters exactly the same way twice.
The attorney general’s office deliberately avoided the constitutional issue in its petition to force those challenged officials off the ballot.
One possible reason the court may have decided to take up the issue is because justices believe those challenges based on the 1996 elections are valid. That would “ripen” the constitutionality issue because candidates would, in that case, be losing their right to run again.
No one who served on the high court in 1996 is still on the bench.
– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.