Roberts v. Priest (00-485)

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Roberts v. Priest, case number 00-485, was a decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court in a 2000 pre-election challenge lawsuit. In it, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Bobby Roberts, prohibiting the Arkansas Secretary of State from placing an initiative on the ballot because the language of the proposal was misleading. The initiative would have abolished property taxes and set more stringent restrictions on how tax increases could be enacted. It was sponsored by John Hoyle and supported by the Arkansas Taxpayers Rights Association.[1]

In 1998, Roberts likewise won a case against Sharon Priest and John Hoyle about a nearly identical measure. In this case, the measure was enjoined from the ballot by the Arkansas Supreme Court due to finding that certain signatures counted as valid by the Secretary of State when the initiative petition was certified were, in fact, not valid.[2]

Court decision

The measure

Roberts filed this lawsuit in response to a popular name and ballot title for an initiative measure, which was sponsored by defendant John Hoyle and supported by the Arkansas Taxpayers Rights Association. The measure would have abolished property taxes in the state and required approval of three fourths of the city council, county commissioners or any legislative body levying a new tax as well as the approval from a majority of voters that would be affected by the proposed tax. Moreover, it would have restricted such elections authorizing tax increases to regularly scheduled statewide elections only.[1]

Plaintiff charges

Roberts alleged that, because the ballot title and popular name provided for the measure specified that the amendment would apply to "any sales tax" while the text of the amendment itself referred to any "tax, license or fee," the popular name and ballot title were misleading to voters and that the measure should not be allowed on the ballot. He concluded that the ballot language implied the amendment would only apply to sales taxes while the amendment text itself dictated that it apply to any tax. He also alleged that the measure would illegally impede the obligation of contracts.[1]

Ruling

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the inconsistency between the ballot language and the text of the amendment impaired the ability of voters to fully understand the amendment's consequences scope and import. They removed the measure from the ballot and Justice Annabelle Clinton Imber, author of the court decision, wrote:[1]

The petition is granted and the Secretary of State is enjoined from placing the proposed measure on the election ballot for the November 7, 2000, general election... I concur in the result because of the patent inconsistencies between the ballot title, the popular name, and the text of the amendment. Its proponents concede the inconsistencies. If the drafters of the proposed amendment intend for it to mean differently than it reads, it is up to them to correct it. Neither precedent nor prudence authorize this court to edit a proposed constitutional amendment. Judges should not edit constitutional provisions either before or after they are made the law of the land. It is nevertheless unfortunate that any initiative of the people is not able to be voted upon by the people.[3]

Because the first of Roberts' charges was sufficient to remove the measure from the ballot, the court did not rule on the constitutionality of the measure with regard to the second charge concerning obligation of contracts.[1]

Plaintiffs

Bobby Roberts was the plaintiff, "individually, and on Behalf of Arkansans to Protect Police, Libraries, Education, & Services."[1]

Defendants

Sharon Priest was the defendant, in her official capacity as Arkansas Secretary of State. John Hoyle intervened to assist in the defense, "individually, and on behalf of Arkansas Taxpayers Rights Association."[1]

Related lawsuits

See also

External links

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References