Litigation aimed at barring two proposed Arkansas constitutional amendments from the November election should be thrown out of court because amendments submitted to voters by the Legislature cannot be held to the same standard as initiatives that reach the ballot by public petition, state lawyers argue in Thursday court filings.
Tom Steele, chairman of the Arkansas Term Limits committee, sued Secretary of State John Thurston last month, claiming the description of the two ballot measures that voters will see on their ballots are misleading and don't provide enough information for them to make an informed vote.
Steele is asking Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mary McGowan to keep the proposals, both brought forth by the General Assembly, off the ballot. The proposals would affect term limits and make changes to the process for citizens to get their recommendations for constitutional amendments and laws on the ballot.
Thurston's lawyers responded Thursday to the suit by calling on McGowan to dismiss the litigation, arguing Steele has no grounds to sue.
"Plaintiff may not like the content of the proposed amendment, but the electorate will have six months to decide if it should pass or fail and plaintiff should not be permitted to prevent consideration of the proposal," Assistant Attorneys General Michael Mosley and Brittany Edwards state in the motion to dismiss. "Plaintiff cannot establish that either amendment fails to provide the public an intelligible idea of the proposed amendment's purpose."
For one thing, there is nothing wrong with those amendment descriptions, referred to as the ballot title and popular name, so they are clearly legal, the lawyers argue.
Steele's suit, filed by attorney David Couch, is also fatally flawed because the litigation seeks to apply the wrong standard to the proposals, the state lawyers claim.
Constitutional amendments get on the ballot through one of two ways, either by public endorsement through petition or by legislative resolution. Amendments proposed by the General Assembly fall under Article 19 of the state constitution while popular referendums are governed by Amendment 7.
Proposals from the General Assembly cannot be forced to conform to the standards that citizen-endorsed proposals are because of those different sections, Thurston's lawyers state, pointing to a 38-year-old Arkansas Supreme Court ruling.
Further citing that 1982 holding, Thurston's legal team notes that the ruling states that Legislative-backed proposals do not have to meet the Amendment 7 ballot-title requirements. Those General Assembly backed amendments do not even have to have a title like the popularly backed proposals do, the lawyers argue.
To get on the ballot, Legislative-approved proposals only have to be passed by both Senate and House of Representatives and then be published in every county for six months before the election, they state.
"[T]he standards applicable to Amendment 7 proposals, cited by the plaintiff in the complaint, do not apply to proposed amendments from the General Assembly explicitly because voters are given more than sufficient notice of the contents of a proposal referred from the General Assembly per such publication," Mosley and Edwards wrote in their brief. "Unlike public initiated amendments, which must inform because they are not published continuously before an election, ballot titles of amendments proposed by the General Assembly need only identify the proposed amendment as the one widely published in newspapers and distinguish the proposed amendment from other proposals."