Idaho Supreme Court tosses high bar for getting initiatives on ballot | Courthouse News Service
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Idaho Supreme Court tosses high bar for getting initiatives on ballot

Activists said the law would have made grassroots initiatives nearly impossible to get on the ballot.

(CN) — An Idaho law that required proponents of ballot initiatives to gather signatures from 6% of registered voters across all of Idaho’s 35 districts is unconstitutional and can’t be enforced, the Idaho Supreme Court has ruled.

Senate Bill 1110, which was signed into law by Republican Governor Brad Little this past April, came under heavy fire from activists who said the bill gave Idaho some of the strictest initiative qualifications in the nation and would have made most grassroots initiative efforts nearly impossible.

Two organizations, Reclaim Idaho and the Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution, led the charge in taking Idaho officials to court to see the law overturned. In a petition that originated from efforts to expand Medicare in the state and potentially marijuana legalization in one of the country’s most conservative states, the groups asked the court to sign off on a writ that would bar Idaho’s Secretary of State from enforcing the new restrictions.

In ruling issued Monday, Idaho Supreme Court Justice Gregory W. Moeller found the law violated the state constitution. Writing for the majority, Moeller said initiative and referendum powers are fundamental rights for Idahoans and the Legislature did not show what was to be gained by curtailing those rights.

The judge further found that even if the Legislature could show the existence of some problem SB 1110 aimed to fix, its solution was too broad and not “narrowly tailored” to pass legal muster.

Luke Mayville, co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, the group that also successfully sponsored Medicaid expansion initiative in the state in 2018, said Monday’s ruling stands as an undeniable victory for Idahoans.

"Thousands of Idahoans will be breathing a sigh of relief," Mayville said in a statement. "Those of us directly involved in the case are ecstatic. It's an historic day. A fundamental right of the people of Idaho has been restored."

The plaintiffs asked the court to strike all geographic distribution requirements for signature-gathering, but the high court stopped short of that and instead restored the rules that were in place before the law took effect. Under those newly reenacted requirements, initiative proponents will need signatures from 6% of registered voters across just 18 of Idaho’s districts, not all 35.

The high court also struck a law that delayed the implementation of passed initiatives until July of the following year, finding that the measure also violated the people's right to bypass the Legislature to enact legislation.

Not everyone, of course, is happy with Monday’s order. Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, a Republican, said the law was passed to help bring smaller districts into the fold during ballot initiative debate and is disappointed to see it tossed.

“Members of the Idaho House Republican Caucus are disappointed at the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision limiting the voice of rural voters,” Bedke said. “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. 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.”

It's worth noting the governor himself, in signing the law earlier this year, acknowledged the new restrictions might not survive a legal challenge and said he was leaving it to the court to make the final call.

"Whether SB 1110 amounts to an impermissible restriction in violation of our Constitution is highly fact dependent, and ultimately a question for the Idaho Judiciary to decide,” Little said in signing the bill.

Justice Robyn Brody dissented in part regarding a standard of review point laid out by the majority, but also concluded that the challenged law should be invalidated.

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