Wildlife groups take case to high court

Published January 20, 2007 12:25 am
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"The problem with the initiative is that it singles out wildlife for a super-majority requirement, and that's a burden that doesn't apply to any other citizen-driven initiative."


Attorney representing wildlife and conservancy groups opposed to Proposition 5

Utah ballot initiatives

WASHINGTON - Utah wildlife groups asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to consider whether some voters were disenfranchised by Proposition 5, a state constitutional amendment making it harder to pass wildlife ballot initiatives.

The groups, including the Western Wildlife Conservancy, Friends of the Great Salt Lake, and others, argue the 1998 amendment, which requires 66 percent of voters to approve a wildlife-related ballot initiative, unfairly raised the bar for citizen efforts to restrict hunting.

“It has the appearance of neutrality - it suggests it applies to all initiatives dealing with hunting - but if you look beneath the surface, the real purpose of the initiative is to silence those individuals and groups that might seek to impose restrictions on hunting through the initiative process,” said Chad Derum, an attorney for the group.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last May that the proposition didn't violate any group's First Amendment rights. Lessening a group's chances to prevail does not represent an unconstitutional infringement on free speech rights, Judge Michael McConnell, a Utahn, wrote for the court.

The Initiative and Referendum Institute, the Humane Society and others asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. The Utah Attorney General's Office will file a brief opposing the request Monday.

The court ultimately hears roughly 200 of the 10,000 cases it is asked to consider each year.

“It's still a very important issue, and the petitioners feel strongly their rights have been violated,” said Lisa Watts Baskin, who is representing the appellants.

Proposition 5 was proposed by the Utah Legislature in 1998 and passed with support from 56 percent of voters. Hunting groups that supported it argued it was needed to prevent out-of-state groups from using ballot initiatives to restrict hunting in the state.

“The problem with the initiative is that it singles out wildlife for a super-majority requirement, and that's a burden that doesn't apply to any other citizen-driven initiative,” Derum said. “The effect that has is to make it virtually impossible for citizens to succeed.”

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