Gerrymandering reform petition challenged in Oklahoma Supreme Court

Gerrymandering

Andy Moore, executive director of People Not Politicians, said his organization would be ready for the signature collection effort if Initiative Petition 420 is allowed to move forward. Initiative Petition 420 would establish an independent commission to redraw legislative districts, a responsibility now controlled by state legislators.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court convened Tuesday to hear oral arguments regarding the legality of proposed State Question 804.

The petition would establish an independent commission to redraw legislative districts, a responsibility now controlled by state legislators themselves.

The arguments were presented in a courtroom packed with spectators, consisting largely of members of People Not Politicians in collaboration with the League of Women Voters.

Opponents of the petition allege the extensive reform measures constitute a violation of Oklahoma’s single-subject rule, which prohibits packaging multiple subjects into the same legislation. Additionally, they allege the restrictions on who could serve on the redistricting commission represent a violation of certain Oklahomans’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

Andy Moore, executive director of People Not Politicians, said prior to the proceedings the opposition was “spearheaded by politicians.” He expressed confidence that his organization would be ready for the signature collection effort, if the petition is allowed to move forward.

The assembled crowd rose to mark the beginning of court proceedings at 2 p.m., followed justices' introduction. Those bringing the challenge spoke first, with Robert Campbell representing them.

Campbell argued the standard for single-subject rule violations was whether or not a voter should reasonably support all aspects of a proposal and alleged Initiative Petition 420 did not meet this standard. These rules, Campbell said, were put in place to protect voters and are meant to limit log-rolling, or the practice of bundling an issue voters may support with a proposal they may not.

The petition is alleged to violate First Amendment freedom of speech by prohibiting politicians, lobbyists or their family members from serving on the independent redistricting commission. Campbell argued participating in the redistricting process constitutes political speech and restricting some Oklahomans from that process would be a limit on their speech.

Following the arguments against the petition’s constitutionality, Melanie Rughani presented arguments defending the legitimacy of the measure.

Rughani contended the entirety of the petition, including the section detailing how prisoners would count toward legislative districts, related back to the single issue of legislative redistricting.

“Prisoner count is a common means of gerrymandering,” Rughani said.

As far as the alleged First Amendment violations, Rughani pointed out that although the opposition raised the issue, no protestants involved in the case were alleging any violations of their First Amendment rights had occurred. Without an actual injured party, claims of First Amendment conflicts were entirely hypothetical, she said.

The court adjourned after Campbell was given the opportunity for a brief rebuttal, and the justices retired to their chambers to begin deliberation.

After the proceedings, Moore expressed confidence in the legality of the petition. While acknowledging the legal challenge was a financial drain on his organization, Moore said he hopes the case “elevates the issues in the minds of voters.”

Should the court allow the petition to continue, the Secretary of State will determine the date to begin the signature collection process.

news.ed@ocolly.com