From CapitolBeatOK Staff Report
Citizens in Charge Foundation, a national initiative rights advocacy group, applauded last week’s federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals 3-0 ruling that an Oklahoma law requiring that petition circulators be residents of the state violates the First Amendment rights of Oklahoma citizens.
“We have long argued that residency restrictions are unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment rights of citizens to petition their government,” said Paul Jacob, president of the Citizens in Charge Foundation. “The impact of these laws is to reduce the number of people available to help Oklahomans speak out politically.”
The decision, Yes on Term Limits v. Savage, joins the 9th Circuit’s July decision in Nader v. Brewer and the 6th Circuit’s October ruling in Nader v. Blackwell. All three circuit court decisions were unanimous in overturning residency laws for petitioners.
“Circulating petitions is the only job in politics facing these legislative restrictions,” Jacob pointed out. “Campaign managers, lobbyists, advertising executives, and others can be from outside the state, but not petition circulators. Why not? The reason is clear: legislators don’t like petitions because they allow citizens to get around those same legislators.”
Yes on Term Limits Inc. sought relief from Oklahoma’s law to allow them to begin a ballot drive using circulators from both within and outside the state of Oklahoma.
“Only an Oklahoman can propose a petition, only Oklahomans can sign that petition, and only Oklahomans can vote on any measure proposed by petition,” Jacob argued. “But Oklahomans should be allowed to hire anyone they choose to carry their petition around the state.”
One year ago, Attorney General Drew Edmondson indicted Jacob – as well as Rick Carpenter of Oklahomans in Action and Susan Johnson of the petition company, National Voter Outreach – with criminal conspiracy for allegedly hiring non-residents to gather signatures on a 2005 petition for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. If convicted, the three face ten years in prison.
“This decision also impacts the criminal prosecution of the Oklahoma 3,” said Jacob. “We did not violate this law, but now we know that the law in question is unconstitutional.”
“Mr. Edmondson should end his politically-motivated prosecution, which has had a terribly chilling effect on Oklahoma citizens wanting to petition,” Jacob added.
Citizens in Charge Foundation is a national group that works to educate citizens and opinion leaders on the importance of the voter initiative and referendum process, and litigates to protect the initiative rights of citizens. However, neither Citizens in Charge Foundation nor Paul Jacob are a party to this litigation.