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JW, AEF challenging Ohio law restricting ballot initiative signature gathering

JW, AEF challenging Ohio law restricting ballot initiative signature gathering
JW, AEF challenging Ohio law restricting ballot initiative signature gathering
(Photo by J.D. Pooley/Getty Images)

Judicial Watch (JW) on Friday announced through media communications that it has joined forces with the Allied Educational Foundation (AEF) in filing an amicus curiae brief in support of a lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction against an Ohio law preventing state initiative sponsors from recruiting out-of-state volunteers from gathering ballot initiative petition signatures.

The cooperation between Judicial Watch and Allied Educational Foundation began when they filed the amicus curiae brief on March 10, 2014.

In November 2013, a federal court in Ohio granted a preliminary injunction to Citizens in Charge and other groups seeking the right to petition.

The case is before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Eastern Division.

Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said, “The brief that was filed argues that Ohio’s law banning out-of-state petition circulators violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments “represents an unlawful intrusion … onto the protected rights of all citizens of the United States.”

Fitton stated that agreeing with a prior finding suggesting that the Ohio law violates the First Amendment, Judicial Watch and AEF argue that the law also violates the Fourteenth Amendment “Privilege and Immunities” clause. “Even if the law did not violate the First Amendment rights of Plaintiffs,” the brief states, “… it violates a fundamental right of citizens of the several states to fully participate in policy advocacy anywhere in their country such debates take place.”

In the brief, Judicial Watch and AEF are arguing that:

  • The Privileges and Immunities Clause Protects all Americans’ Right to Circulate an Initiative Petition in Order to Protect Unpopular Viewpoints

“Ohio’s law will limit participation in matters of public policy on precisely those issues which most need the help of out-of-state advocates. By their very nature, initiatives and referendums often advocate for positions that are unpopular with state government officials, as they frequently involve measures which elected representatives are unwilling to adopt themselves. Ohio’s citizens may support these initiatives, but may hesitate to become involved for fear of retribution by a government that opposed them.”

  • The Right to Participate in Initiatives as Circulators in the Several States is a Fundamental Right of All Citizens Which Bears Upon the Entire Nation

“By discriminating against out-of-state citizens, Ohio’s law weakens direct democracy in the state, an issue “which bears upon the vitality of the nation as a single entity.” The right to direct democracy is essential to the preservation of vibrant democracies in the many states. The ability of states to function as “laboratories of democracy” is paramount to the health and vitality of the nation and its federal system.”

Fitton said, “The law prohibiting the use by in-state organizations of out-of-state petitioners, S.B. 47, was passed by the Ohio legislature and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in June 2013. The law prohibits anyone except an Ohio resident from gathering signatures on a petition to place a ballot issue before voters. The General Assembly exempted themselves, and all other candidates, from the residency restriction. Citizens in Charge filed its lawsuit in September 2013.”

“This Ohio law unlawfully limits the right of the people to govern themselves through the initiative process. Ohio’s law intrudes on a fundamental right not often emphasized by politicians – the citizens’ right to place additional checks on the power of their elected representatives,” said Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton.

“The U.S. Constitution prohibits government from restricting the rights of Americans citizens to petition their government.”