A.G.: State Supreme Court to be ultimate decider on ballot-initiative law


LITTLE ROCK — The fate of a new state law that imposed new restrictions on the ballot initiative process ultimately will be decided by the state Supreme Court, a spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Wednesday.

A Pulaski County circuit judge on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction temporarily barring Secretary of State Mark Martin from enforcing Act 1413 of 2013, ruling that it placed an undue burden on citizens seeking to place proposals on the ballot.

“We are disappointed in the Circuit Court’s decision, but all parties understood that this case would eventually be decided by the Arkansas Supreme Court,” McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler said Wednesday. “We are currently considering our options.”

Circuit Judge Mary McGowan issued the ruling in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Public Law Center on behalf of Paul Spencer, president of Regnat Populus, and Neil Sealy, executive director of Arkansas Community Organizations.

The suit challenges the constitutionality of the law’s requirements that the name, address and a recent photo of every paid canvasser be provided to the secretary of state; that an entire page of signatures be invalidated if part of it is defective; that every canvasser sign an affidavit stating that his or her address is correct and attach it to the petition; that every signer print his name, address and birth date; and that a canvasser who prints a name, address or birth date for a signer is committing a Class A misdemeanor, among other things.

McGowan said in her 11-page ruling that “the effects of Act 1413 are crushing to the citizens who wish to bring their issues directly to the people. The effects of Act 1413 seem to impact the citizens rather than the special interests who always seem to have the money to further their goals.”

The Legislature approved Act 1413 after 70 percent of signatures submitted to the secretary of state’s office in support of two ballot proposals were ruled invalid. Lawmakers said at the time they wanted to address misconduct by signature gatherers.

Sealy said Wednesday the judge’s order was “a victory for the people” but acknowledged that the ruling does not resolve the lawsuit and that the case ultimately could end up before the state Supreme Court.

ACLU attorney Bettina Brownstein said that although the case could still go to trial, she believed it was unlikely that McGowan would decide to uphold the law after issuing Tuesday’s ruling. She also said that although the attorney general’s office has the right to appeal any decision to the Supreme Court — the ruling on the preliminary injunction or a final ruling in the case — that doesn’t mean it has to.

“They have to weigh how strong they think their case is, and so far it hasn’t been very strong,” she said. “If they want to waste more of the people’s money and time and effort in a case that they’d probably lose, I guess they have to make that judgment, right?”