Utah’s top court throws out challenge to initiative law
Lawsuit • Merrill Cook says he’ll turn to lower court in his push to make E-Verify mandatory.
Published: July 4, 2012 12:10AM
Updated: September 6, 2012 07:06PM
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Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Merrill Cook files a petition at the Salt Lake County Clerk's office Tuesday to put measure on 2012 ballot for penalizing companies for hiring undocumented workers and geting rid of HB 116.

The Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that claimed shortening the time frame for gathering signatures tied to voter turnout in a presidential election is an unreasonable burden.

In a brief written statement in the ruling, Chief Justice Matthew Durrant said Merrill Cook could still seek relief in 3rd District Court.

The lawsuit centered around Cook’s group Citizens Aligned to Secure Utah’s Prosperity. That group had attempted to get an initiative on the ballot that would require businesses to use an electronic verification system —commonly known as E-Verify — to determine if a person was eligible to work in the United States.

Cook’s group had been gathering signatures in Salt Lake County since June 2011 and appeared to end up about 5,000 short before the April deadline had passed.

But Cook had argued before the Utah Supreme Court last week that the restrictions under a law signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March 2011 were unfair. He said requiring them to gather signatures totaling 10 percent of the voter turnout for a presidential election was more difficult than gathering 10 percent of turnout for a gubernatorial election, as the law previously allowed.

In the last presidential election, 971,185 votes were cast. In the last gubernatorial election in 2010, there were 653,274 votes cast.

The law also tightened the allotted time to gather signatures — 316 days under the current law compared to about three years before Herbert signed the bill, SB165. Cook said the short time frame, coupled with collecting them in bad weather, was burdensome for most volunteer signature gatherers, a group that tends to be elderly.

Thom Roberts, assistant attorney general, argued last week that the case shouldn’t have been filed to the Supreme Court but to Utah’s 3rd District Court.

Cook said his group would file the lawsuit in district court within the next few days.

dmontero@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davemontero