Idaho Supreme Court says new ballot initiative law violates state constitution

In a new ruling Monday, the Idaho Supreme Court blocked the implementation of a new ballot initiative law that opponents said would have made it nearly impossible to bring a ballot initiative or referendum forward.

Writing for a majority of the court, Idaho Supreme Court Justice Gregory W. Moeller wrote that the ballot initiative law requiring signatures from 6% of voters in all 35 legislative districts violates the Idaho Constitution “because the initiative and referendum powers are fundamental rights, reserved to the people of Idaho, to which strict scrutiny applies.”

“We conclude that the (Secretary of State) and the Legislature have failed to represent a compelling state interest for limiting that right,” Moeller wrote in the 55-page ruling.

The court blocked the new law, Senate Bill 1110, from taking effect. The court also restored the previous signature gathering requirement, which is for signatures from 6% of voters in at least 18 legislative districts, as well as signatures equal to or greater than 6% of the state’s over registered voters at the time of the last general election.

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robyn M. Brody wrote she agreed with the court’s conclusion Senate Bill 1110 is unconstitutional. Brody offered a little bit of a different viewpoint than the majority of justices, writing that she found the law unconstitutional because it is not “reasonable and workable.”

“SB 1110 is not reasonable and workable,” Brody wrote. “I agree wholeheartedly with the court’s concussion that SB 1110 gives every legislative district in the state veto power and turns a perceived fear of ‘tyranny of the majority’ into an actual ‘tyranny of the minority.’ I would invalidate SB 1110 on that ground.”

The ruling represents a victory for Reclaim Idaho, the volunteer-driven political group behind the 2018 Medicaid expansion effort in Idaho.

Reclaim Idaho sued the state in May, saying the new ballot initiative law makes it near impossible to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot because of the requirement to gather signatures from the most rural and isolated corners of the state.

Reclaim Idaho issued a statement Monday welcoming the court’s decision.

“Thousands of Idahoans are breathing a sigh of relief today,” Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville said in the statement. “In the face of an assault on the initiative process by the Idaho Legislature, our Supreme Court has fulfilled its obligation to protect the rights of every Idahoan.”

The Idaho Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on June 29.

“Whatever the legal test is, the heart of this case is the severe burden SB 1110 requires with no true purpose,” Deborah Ferguson, Reclaim Idaho’s attorney, argued in court. “The Legislature’s purpose is only pretext.”

In Monday’s ruling, the Idaho Supreme Court also awarded attorney’s fees to Reclaim Idaho and allowed it to recover its legal costs.

In a written statement Monday afternoon, Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, expressed disappointment with the ruling, writing that the ruling limits the voice of rural Idahoans.

“These changes to the voter referendum/initiative process would’ve served to increase voter involvement and inclusivity, especially in the corners of the state too often forgotten by some,” Bedke wrote. “We believe that all the 35 legislative districts, every part of Idaho, should be included in this important process, unfortunately, the Supreme Court apparently disagrees.”

With the ballot initiative case behind them, Reclaim Idaho organizers and volunteers are moving forward gathering signatures for a new education ballot initiative they hope to get on the November 2022 ballots. The Quality Education Act would raise more than $300 million annually for education by increasing the corporate income tax and raising income taxes on individuals making more than $250,000 per year.

Efforts to reach Ferguson were not immediately successful Monday afternoon.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christine Lords for questions: [email protected]. Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

Clark Corbin, Idaho Capital Sun

Clark Corbin, Idaho Capital Sun

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News.

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