Law isn’t ‘pick and choose’
Now that District Court Judge Bill Maddox has declared that disqualified signatures relating to several petitions should be counted, thereby qualifying those petitions – Raise the Minimum Wage and Stop Frivolous Lawsuits – for the 2004 general election ballot, I’d like to clear up a couple of points that have been made erroneously in media reports and by backers of these petitions.
Judge Maddox used the phrase, “the ‘boy, is that stupid’ test applies here.” I might instead paraphrase the political line from the early ’90s, “It’s the Constitution, stupid!” Much has been said and written about the mistaken “fact” that the signatures were deemed invalid due to a “procedural flaw” or because of regulations established by the Secretary of State’s Office. As I have stated several times, in making the decision to not count the signatures in question, I followed the Nevada Constitution, Article 19, Section 3(1) which states in part:
“The petition may consist of more than one document, but each document shall have affixed thereto an affidavit made by one of the signers of such document to the effect that all of the signatures are genuine and that each individual who signed such document was at the time of signing a registered voter in the county of his or her residence.”
The statement made by some of the backers of the petitions that the decision by me and the Attorney General’s Office was an attempt to “stop the will of the people” is not only baseless but downright ridiculous. The facts are simple:
1) We followed the constitutional requirement.
2) When the problem was discovered, I asked the Attorney General’s Office to provide my office with legal guidance due to the apparent dilemma surrounding the Nevada Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding signature gathering on petitions.
3) I informed the petitioners that I welcomed and supported an appeal of that legal opinion.
4) I informed the petitioners that unless and until I rendered a decision on the validity of the signatures in question based on the legal advice I received, a court would not be able to intervene in the issue. Further, whose “will of the people” is being referenced? The will of the people who established that section of Nevada’s constitution in 1962 through a ballot question, or the will of the people who signed these particular petitions?
In my view, the Nevada Constitution is not a fast-food menu that you pick and choose from. In fact, I must say that I find it interesting that some members of the media and others seem to believe that I should not have adhered to the law established in the Nevada Constitution, but rather should have rendered a decision based on what I thought was the “intent” of the constitutional requirement.
As I remember, many of these same members of the media railed against the Nevada Supreme Court concerning their decision relating to the two-thirds majority constitutional requirement regarding tax increases when the court bypassed the Constitution and decided to interpret what they thought the people really meant.
I can only conclude that these members of the media and backers of the petition who chastised me for following the constitution feel you should only do so in certain situations or when that decision fits their purpose or opinion.
Dean Heller is Nevada’s secretary of state.