Support for Ohio lawsuit “should be nonpartisan”

Wed, Oct 9 2013 by Neal Hobson

Toledo Blade columnist Marilou Johanek writes in praise of a lawsuit, Citizens in Charge v. Husted, filed in federal court by Ohio’s 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and seeking to overturn Senate Bill 47, which restricts non-residents from helping to gather signatures and reduces the time sponsors have to petition. SB 47 passed on entirely partisan votes in the legislature and was signed into law by Republican Gov. John Kasich earlier this year. 

Johanek quotes Maurice Thompson, the 1851 Center’s executive director: “We like the checks on government that the initiative and referendum provides, and the opportunities for citizens to take lawmaking power into their own hands and deal directly with the issues.”

“Politics makes strange bedfellows,” Johanek argues, noting that ballot measures can cut both left and right. “But when it comes to ensuring that critical checks and balances about government reside with Ohio citizens, support for the 1851 Center’s campaign to enjoin a bad law should be nonpartisan.”

The new law outlaws any out-of-state petitioner, whether a paid professional or a volunteer, from collecting signatures on petitions in Ohio. Such a ban reduces the pool of experienced petition passers, thus lessening the likelihood of gathering enough signatures and also upping the cost of trying. All of which will likely dissuade many citizens, who might otherwise seek to start a petition, from doing so.

“Frankly, we’re surprised that Secretary of State [Jon] Husted said he intended to enforce it,” Mr. Thompson added, since a previous Ohio law prohibiting non-residents from gathering signatures was struck down as an unconstitutional violation of First Amendment rights by the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals just a few years ago. “But we expect to win that issue and have that law enjoined by the end of the year at the latest.”