Ohio SC allows city vote on Citizens United measure

Bethany Krajelis Oct. 3, 2012, 1:34pm


COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) - The Ohio Supreme Court has quashed the city of Brecksville's attempt to block the placement of a citizens' initiative over corporate campaign contributions on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Pushed by a group of voters unhappy with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the initiative, if approved, would require the city to support a constitutional amendment that would basically contradict the court's ruling approving unlimited campaign spending by corporations, special interest groups and unions.

In July, the group filed a signed initiative petition --"Brecksville Initiative in Support of Movement to Amend the U.S. Constitution To Establish That Corporations Are Not People And Money Is Not Speech" - with the city's finance director.

If voters approve the initiative next month, city leaders will have to designate one day in February following the federal election for a period of 10 years as "Democracy Day" and host a public hearing on how campaign donations from corporations, unions and political action committees affect the city.

The initiative would also require the mayor to send a letter to Ohio's state and federal lawmakers, stating that voters support a constitutional amendment declaring that only people, not corporations, have First Amendment rights and that regulating campaign spending is not the same as limiting political speech.

The city in August filed a protest to the board of elections, claiming that the citizens' initiative violates the Ohio Constitution because it addresses a question the city has no authority to control by legislative action.

In addition, the city argued that the initiative violates public policy by trying to force the mayor to support something in opposition of the U.S. Constitution.

The board of elections deadlocked on the motion to uphold the city's protest against the citizens' initiative, which sent the matter to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who broke the tie by voting against the city.

The city then filed an expedited election action to the Ohio Supreme Court, seeking writs of mandamus and prohibition to prevent Husted and the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections certifying and placing the initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.

In a 5-2 ruling released Monday, the majority of the state high court denied the city's requests, which means the initiative will be put on Nov. 6 ballot for voters to decide.

The court held the city's argument that the initiative addresses a question it can't control with legislative action "lacks merit" because it includes proposals that require action, such as hosting public hearings.

When it came to the city's claim that the initiative would require the mayor to support an issue that contradicts the U.S. Constitution, the majority of the court determined that this challenge "attacks the substance of the proposed ordinances" and "is premature before the adoption of the proposed ordinances by the people."

Justices Terrence O'Donnell and Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, however, dissented from the majority's ruling. O'Donnell wrote a dissenting opinion that Lundberg Stratton joined.

Because this case "raises an important constitutional question on the scope of the right of initiative afforded by the Ohio Constitution and has wider implications than the establishment of Democracy Day in the city of Brecksville," O'Donnell wrote that he "would schedule oral argument and not rule on the writ at this time."

"In essence, the initiative would require the city of Brecksville to enact legislation in support of a movement to amend the United States Constitution to abrogate the United States Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United," O'Donnell wrote, adding that the city "lacks authority to control the meaning of the First Amendment by local legislation or to overturn a decision of the United States Supreme Court."

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor and Justices Paul Pfeifer, Ann Lanzinger, Robert Cupp and Yvette McGee Brown made up the court's majority in this ruling.

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