Nevada ballot initiative unsettled on sanctuary city ban

May 17, 2018

FILE - This May 8, 2018 file photo shows the Nevada Supreme Court in Carson City, Nev. A legal battle in Nevada over a proposed ballot initiative that seeks to ban so-called sanctuary cities is headed back to state court. In a 6-1 ruling Wednesday, May 16, 2018, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned part of a district court order that would keep the measure off the November ballot. But the justices say more changes are needed before it can go to the voters. (AP Photo/Scott Sonner, file)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A fight over a proposed voter initiative seeking to ban so-called sanctuary cities in Nevada is headed back to district court after the state Supreme Court refused Wednesday to uphold the entirety of an earlier ruling that would have kept the measure off the November ballot.

In a 6-1 ruling, Supreme Court justices overturned part of a Carson City district court judge’s ruling that determined the measure was unconstitutional because it failed to meet a requirement that it address only a single subject.

But the justices agreed with civil rights lawyers who argued the language in the ballot initiative is “deceptive and misleading.” The lawyers contend it doesn’t describe the potential effects of what critics say is an “anti-immigrant” initiative.

The case was returned to district court, where a political action committee pushing the proposal should have an opportunity to amend the measure to explain potential impacts.

The PAC, Prevent Sanctuary Cities, has until June 19 to collect the necessary signatures to get the measure on the November ballot. As a result of Wednesday’s ruling, all signatures already gathered are invalidated.

Republican state Senate leader Michael Roberson, who is behind the effort to ban sanctuary cities and who is seeking the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, said if the deadline isn’t met, supporters will look to put the initiative before the voters in 2020.

“Regardless, today’s ruling is a victory in the longer term,” Roberson said in an email to The Associated Press. “Our efforts have been delayed, but our right to bring this question to the voters for their decision will not be denied.”

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union argued before the state Supreme Court earlier this month that the measure is intended to confuse and mislead voters into supporting sweeping changes under the guise of targeting sanctuary cities, which currently don’t exist in Nevada.

Amy Rose, ACLU of Nevada’s legal director, said proponents of the measure will have to start over with a new description that sufficiently informs voters of potential impacts before they can gather new signatures.

“We’re thrilled the court recognized this petition’s deceptive nature,” Rose said Wednesday. “This is a victory for Nevada’s immigrant communities and also for Nevada voters, who deserve to know exactly what they’re signing when endorsing a petition that would alter the Nevada Constitution.”

Chief Justice Michael Douglas wrote in the majority opinion on Wednesday that the current description — which simply restates the purpose of the proposal — is “insufficient.”

The justices agreed with Carson City District Judge Todd Russell’s earlier finding that “the title of the petition — Prevent Sanctuary Cities Initiative — adds to the problem” because it’s “a catch-all that is subject to shifting and imprecise meanings, not a neutral, descriptive phrase.”

Justice Michael Cherry wrote in the lone dissent that he would have left intact the order keeping the measure off the ballot because it violates the single-subject requirement.

“It encompasses a multitude of subjects that a voter may not expect, including laws and policies regarding schools, health care and welfare programs,” Cherry said. “The initiative may mislead voters into supporting a petition that they otherwise would not because they are unaware of the initiative’s reach.”

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