Nevada Judge Blocks Anti-Sanctuary City Ballot Initiative

In this March 6, 2015, photo, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enter an apartment complex looking for a specific undocumented immigrant convicted of a felony during an early morning operation in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

CARSON CITY, Nev. (CN) – A Nevada judge on Friday rejected a proposed ballot question that sought to prohibit sanctuary cities in Nevada, ruling that it is confusing and excessively broad.

Carson City Judge James T. Russell also ruled from the bench that the proposed amendment to the Nevada Constitution, known as the “Prevent Sanctuary Cities Initiative,” addresses more than one subject, which violates the state’s single-subject requirement for ballot measures.

Three plaintiffs, represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and prominent Democratic lawyer Marc Elias, challenged the proposed initiative in a lawsuit filed in November. The plaintiffs include Michael Haley, a former sheriff of Washoe County, which includes Reno.

Prevent Sanctuary Cities, the political action committee that filed the initiative petition in October, the committee’s president, and Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the state’s top election official, were named as defendants.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs argued that the initiative violates the single-subject rule because the term “sanctuary cities” contains multiple subjects and has no established legal definition and because the initiative uses “excessively general and broad language.”

Plaintiffs also attacked the initiative on the basis that its description of effect doesn’t describe any effects, including financial and public-safety ramifications, but rather simply recycles the language of the proposed constitutional amendment itself. The judge agreed that the description doesn’t inform voters.

Finally, the plaintiffs contended that the proposal doesn’t set forth legislative policy but is “executive in character because it involves the enforcement of previously enacted federal immigration laws.”

The initiative sought to amend the Nevada Constitution to provide that the Legislature, a county commission or the governing board of a city shall not enact a law or ordinance or “otherwise adopt, enforce or endorse a policy which prohibits, limits or discourages cooperation with the enforcement of the immigration laws of the United States.”

In a prepared statement, ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Tod Story said the organization appreciates “the judge’s thoughtful decision in invaliding this pointless petition.”

“If this discriminatory, unnecessary, and misleading initiative had gone forward, it would have misled voters and ultimately split families apart and imperiled public safety,” Story said.

Proponents of the initiative could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Nevada Appeal newspaper reported that a key backer, Michael Roberson, a Republican state senator, indicated the ruling would be appealed.

When the complaint was filed, plaintiff Haley, the former sheriff, said in prepared remarks that compelling local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law is actually harmful to public safety.

“Police,” he said, “are less likely to receive valuable information or tips from communities that are terrified of facing possible deportation.”

An initiative to amend the Nevada Constitution, after receiving enough signatures from voters to qualify for the ballot, must be approved by voters in two general elections.

 

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