The attorney for two top Republican lawmakers is laying the groundwork to quash a legal challenge to new hurdles they erected to voters creating their own laws.
During a preliminary hearing May 25, David Cantelme did not address whether the Legislature exceeded its constitutional authority by requiring those who propose initiatives to be in “strict compliance” with each and every election law. That is a significant change from current law which requires only “substantial compliance,” a standard that allows the public to vote on measures despite technical violations.
Instead, Cantelme told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joshua Rogers he believes there’s a legal flaw in the case by challengers, a flaw he contends bars the judge from considering their request to block the law from taking effect.
“If they haven’t suffered an injury, a real, palpable, discrete injury, they don’t have a case,” he said. And Cantelme, who represents Senate President Steve Yarbrough and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, said there is nothing in the record so far that shows the various challengers will be harmed if they’re forced to have to live under the strict compliance standard.
But attorney Roopali Desai who represents challengers, objects to the fact that Cantelme wants to question her clients, ahead of the hearing, some of whom are people who have been involved in past initiatives.
Cantelme wants to ask them about future plans, an issue he said goes to the question of whether they actually would be harmed if the strict compliance standard takes effect as scheduled on Aug. 9.
Desai, however, told Rogers she sees something more sinister in what Cantelme is arguing.
“The (Republican-controlled) Legislature is going to try to get into facts relating to the strategy and details with respect to the who, what, when, and details of initiatives that the plaintiffs are not required at this stage to have to (disclose),” she said. “It would be completely inappropriate for the Legislature to get into those sort of political, strategic issues that they otherwise would not have access to.”
After the hearing, Cantelme did not dispute that he wants to ask the challengers about their future plans.
“I get to ask them what is appropriate for the case,” he said, refusing to be more specific.
Among the plaintiffs in the case is Matt Madonna, former regional president of the American Cancer Society. His organization was behind a successful ballot effort to ban smoking in public places.
Sandy Bahr is chapter director of the Sierra Club, which has been involved in various ballot fights including a ban on leghold traps on public lands and creating an optional system of public financing for state and local elections.
And the Animal Defense League helped get voter approval of a ban on “gestation crates” for calves and pigs.
Desai said all the plaintiffs do have an interest because she believes having to live under the strict compliance standard will make the initiative process more expensive. For example, she said, if innocent mistakes can have every petition voided, organizers may decide they don’t want to use volunteers.
“So you may have to move to an all paid-circulation effort because at that point you can be more assured that every ‘i’ is dotted, every ‘t’ is crossed,” she said.
“People should be doing that anyway,” Desai continued. “But you don’t spend millions of dollars on an initiative and think to yourself, ‘This is going to get thrown out for some minor defect.’ ”
The lawsuit is only one side of the effort to kill the new law.
A separate referendum drive has been launched to prevent the law from taking effect. If backers gather 75,321 valid signatures of registered voters before Aug. 9, the measure remains on “hold” until voters decide in November 2018 whether to ratify or reject what lawmakers have enacted.