The ACLU of Nevada scored another federal court victory this week, as U.S. District Court Judge Philip Pro ruled that new rules passed by the 2007 Legislature governing the initiative process are unconstitutional.
The ACLU of Nevada filed the suit in conjunction with the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that has used the petition process to fight for the legalization of marijuana in Nevada. The new rules required petition gatherers to obtain a number of signatures from all 17 counties in Nevada based on their percentage of the state population. This led to the bizarre result that a Petition campaign would need over 40,000 signatures from Clark County - and just 29 from Esmeralda County. The ACLU and MPP argued successfully that such a system violated the Fourteenth Amendment's requirement of Equal Protection, because it gave rural voters a controlling veto power over statewide petitions.
Amazingly, this was the ACLU of Nevada and MPP's second victory in striking down such a law, as the two organizations successfully challenged a virtually identical "13-county" law in 2005. At the 2007 Legislature, the ACLU of Nevada lobbied forcefully against the new rules, and argued that the new 17-county rule was equally unconstitutional to the law we had just gotten struck down in federal court. ACLU lawyer Allen Lichtenstein warned the Legislature that the 17-county plan was unconstitutional and passing it would be a "tremendous waste of resources and taxpayers' money." Unfortunately, after the Legislature passed the new rules, the ACLU of Nevada and MPP were forced to re-litigate the constitutional principles involved to protect the right of the people to access the initiative process.
The ACLU of Nevada was joined in this case by the Marijuana Policy Project and their New York-based attorneys Sarah Netburn and Matthew Brinckerhoff from Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP. A full article about the victory appeared Tuesday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and can be found here: http://www.lvrj.com/news/29929004.html.