Lemons v. Bradbury
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On February 1, 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman ruled against the plaintiffs. In March, the plaintiffs filed an appeal of Mosman's
ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
On August 14, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled against the plaintiffs and in favor of Bradbury. Unless the plaintiffs ask for (and are granted) an en banc review of the decision, the case is over.
The panel had heard oral arguments in the case on July 8, 2008, on an expedited schedule. The attorneys for the state had asked the panel to rule on or by August 1. The 9th circuit issues opinions at 10 a.m., Pacific time.
The Oregon Family Fairness Act was passed by the Oregon State Legislature as HB 2007 and signed by Oregon's governor in May 2007. The bill gave some rights and responsibilities to domestic partnerships. The bill was set to take effect on January 1, 2008 and under Oregon's laws governing referenda, if opponents of the bill collected enough signatures, they could forestall the new law taking effect and force it onto the November 2008 ballot in Oregon.
Basis for litigation
The group opposed to the Oregon Family Fairness Act collected signatures to force the measure to the ballot throughout the summer and fall of 2007, turning in about 62,000 signatures. 55,179 signatures were required. On October 8, 2007, the Oregon Secretary of State determined that not enough valid signaturess had been filed.
Supporters of the referendum believed that some signatures had been declared invalid that should have been counted. This was the basis for ADF's filing of the lawsuit in December 2007. Put forward as evidence in the trial were affidavits from some Oregon residents who had signed the petition, and whose signatures had been declared invalid. These residents declared that they had signed the petition, that they were legally registered voters, and that there was no basis for invalidating their signatures.
Legal issues raised by the case
The two contending values at issue in the case was the fairness and reliability of the procedures used by the Secretary of State to determine the suffiency of signatures on a given petition, versus the sanctity of a signature from an individual voter. Mosman's ruling holds that the Secretary of State used the same process in checking the signatures on this petition as it historically has used, and that the process is a basically fair and reasonable process.
In Mosman's view, since the state uses random sampling to check signatures, it is not the case that every signature on a petition has legal bearing on whether a petition has enough signatures. Most of them, under random sampling, are never scrutizined or checked. Mosman also said that signatures are sometimes not turned in by circulators, suggesting that this means that the process does not always take every signature into account. He also took into account the argument made by the government that the system it uses to validate petitions is in general a reasonable and economical system for validating signatures, so that the result of that historically accepted method ought to be accepted in this case.
On the other side, Austin Nimrocks, an ADF attorney, says, "Their signatures were genuine, and no legitimate reason existed to refuse to allow these registered voters to participate in the democratic process. Our country is founded on the basic principle of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It should stay that way in Oregon."
Similar legal cases
In Edwards v. Rhode Island Board of Elections, a 2004 lawsuit decided by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, that court heard a case with similar legal issues. What was at stake was whether the name of John Edwards could appear on the state's Democratic presidential primary ballot. That court decided the case before them with a conclusion opposite of that reach in Lemons v. Bradbury by Judge Mosman, ruling that validly registered voters whose signatures were rejected, but who really had signed the petition, had a right to submit affidavits affirming that their signature really was their signature.
- Text of the 9th Circuit's August 14 decision
- Text of the February 1, 2008 decision by Judge Mosman
- Copy of appeal to the Ninth Circuit
- Lemons v. Bradbury Background and Timeline (dead link) from Basic Rights Oregon
- Copy of the original complaint (dead link)
- Ballot Access News, "Federal judge in Oregon says petition signers have no right to have their signatures counted," February 3, 2008
- Ninth Circuit upholds denial of Oregon domestic partnership referendum, August 15, 2008
- Ninth Circuit upholds Oregon signature-checking procedures
- Ninth Circuit may release Lemons v. Bradbury on August 1
- Details about referral of HB 2007
- ADF attorneys file appeal to restore voters’ rights in Oregon