Still pending: Lawsuit challenging the term limits/ethics amendment | Arkansas Blog

Monday, November 10, 2014

Still pending: Lawsuit challenging the term limits/ethics amendment

Posted By on Mon, Nov 10, 2014 at 7:01 AM

We've been writing about the surprising voter approval of Issue 3, which bans lobbyist expenditures on legislators, loosens term limits and allows for a non-legislative path to pay raises for legislators, state officials and judges.

Let's not get totally carried away just yet.

A lawsuit still pends in Circuit Judge Chris Piazza's court that asks that Secretary of State Mark Martin be enjoined from certifying the votes on the measure. There's been little action in the case since the lawsuit and a response from Martin's office in September. But it is still alive. Plaintiffs are supporters of term limits. They say  that it was "manifestly fraudulent" for the ballot title to say the proposal "set" term limits when the effect was to extend the amount of time lawmakers could serve. The lawsuit also says the proposal, given its distinct parts, amounts to multiple amendments, when the legislature is limited to three. Two other amendments changed approval rules for state regulations and also changed the rules on ballot initiatives. Those two are not being challenged in the lawsuit.

I'm attempting to reach the lawyer in the case to see where things stand. I hope to update today.

If I had to predict, I'd predict a hard judicial road for a lawsuit that would invalidate a one-week old election. The Supreme Court also has traditionally given more leeway to legislatively proposed amendments than to those proposed by petition. Finally, I'd note that the final arbiter, the Arkansas Supreme Court, has been working for years for a substantial pay raise for judges and been rebuffed repeatedly by the legislature. Issue 3 puts judicial pay raises nominally outside politics — in the hands of an independent commission.

Under the old law, legislators were limited to six years in the House and eight in the Senate (or 10 in some cases depending on terms drawn after decennial redistricting.) The new amendment lifts the general cap from 14 to 16 years, but — this is significant — allows a member to serve all those years consecutively in either the Senate or House (and up to 20 years in the Senate in some cases). That's enough time to accrue a mighty amount of power.

The lawsuit argues that the "manifest fraud" standard should be applied even more rigorously to amendments proposed by the legislature to the benefit of the legislature.

As an alternative to disallowing the entire amendment, the lawsuit says the court could just strike the term limits portion because the amendment has a severability clause.

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