Patrick B. McGuigan
The Oklahoma state Supreme Court on Monday, April 30 slapped down Initiative Petition No. 395 – the Personhood Initiative – a proposed state constitutional amendment which might have been on the November general election ballot if advocates had garnered sufficient valid signatures.
The ruling continued a pattern of pre-certification (and pre-circulation) review of initiative petitions that began in the 1990s, when the state High Court struck down an earlier pro-life initiative. That ruling was controversial at the time, because ballot measures previously were allowed to gain status and then face judicial review, as is the case with other laws and provision.
However, the earlier decision provided precedent for Monday’s mandate forbidding initiative activists from even circulating their proposal. The court cited the earlier case (In re Initiative Petition No. 349, State Question 642, 1992 OK 122 par 16, 838 P.2d 1.8.), which asserted “[a] pre-submission determination of the constitutionality of [an] initiative petition is appropriate and necessary where the proposal is facially unconstitutional and is justified when a costly and futile election may be avoided.”
As a result of subsequent statutory enactments, the legal sufficiency of an initiative “must now be heard … in advance of a challenge to the numerical sufficiency of the initiative petition.”
The state court contended today the measure is “clearly unconstitutional,” citing Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), a U.S. Supreme Court decision. The state court concluded the initiative petition is “void on its face and it is hereby ordered stricken.”
Advocates had continued the initiative met standards set in the 1989 Webster decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Monday’s ruling was unanimous and was signed by Chief Justice Steven Taylor.
The constitutional initiative is distinguishable from a proposed statutory assertion of personhood for unborn children. As a result of a decision made in the House Republican caucus, that measure was pulled from consideration in the Oklahoma House chamber two weeks ago. Last week, supporters tried to bring the matter to the floor, but the effort was ruled out of order.