The Oregonian: 9th Circuit rejects bid by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to halt signature gathering for redistricting initiative

The Oregonian: 9th Circuit rejects bid by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to halt signature gathering for redistricting initiative

7/24/2020

This article was originally published on OregonLive.

Supporters of a plan to put an independent commission in charge of Oregon’s redistricting process can continue to gather signatures under a lower threshold to qualify their initiative for the November ballot due to the pandemic, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum had asked the federal appeals court last week to step in to stop the effort, after a federal judge in Eugene ordered Secretary of State Bev Clarno to either accept the signatures the campaign gathered by the deadline earlier this month or give organizers more time and a lower bar to qualify for the ballot.

Clarno, who is a Republican, opposed the People Not Politicians campaign’s request for more time and a lower signature requirement but she ultimately went with one of the options set out by U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane: lower the threshold to 58,789 valid signatures by Aug. 17. The normal requirement was 149,360 valid signatures by July 2.

Rosenblum, a Democrat, disagreed with that decision and appealed McShane’s decision to the 9th Circuit. That court on Thursday declined Rosenblum’s request to put a hold on McShane’s order while they decide on Rosenblum’s appeal. The two appeals court judges appointed by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton who upheld McShane’s order did not explain their reasoning.

Only Judge Consuelo M. Callahan, appointed by President George W. Bush, explained her dissent, writing that “adherence to Oregon’s constitutionally mandated signature threshold for ballot initiatives either does not implicate the First Amendment at all or does not do so in a way” that does not violate the People Not Politicians campaign’s free speech rights.

Oregon’s Legislature is currently in charge of redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional district lines once a decade, with the secretary of state handling the job when lawmakers are unable to finish it. Indeed, secretaries of state have ended up completing Oregon’s redistricting process nearly every time over the last century, according to the City Club of Portland.

Initiative Petition 57 would transfer the job of redrawing Oregon’s electoral map from the Legislature to a new 12-member commission. Backers include good government groups such as the League of Women Voters, business associations and branches of the NAACP. They have argued lawmakers face a conflict in setting the boundaries of their own electoral districts.

“We are thrilled that our people-powered campaign to make redistricting in Oregon fair and transparent has scored another victory in court,” said Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon which is part of the campaign, in a statement Thursday. “People Not Politicians engaged in an extraordinarily energetic and creative effort to gather signatures safely during a pandemic. We hope the court ultimately lets the public decide whether everyday Oregonians—not politicians—should draw our legislative and congressional districts.”

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