Two new amicus (friend of the court) briefs filed by the original sponsor of the Initiative 65 and the conservative policy group Americans for Prosperity were filed this week in an attempt to convince the state Supreme Court not to kill the state’s medical marijuana program before it can begin.
The original lawsuit, which was filed on October 26 just days before the election by the city of Madison, is asking the state Supreme Court to throw out Initiative 65 — which received 73 percent of the vote and would create a medical marijuana program in the state.
AFP filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief on January 15 and Ashley Durval, who was the original filer of the Initiative 65 petition, filed another Tuesday.
Both briefs take aim at the crux of the arguments made by the city of Madison and other parties such as the state Department of Health who seek to kill Initiative 65. They both say that if the court issues a decision that strikes down Initiative 65, it will deprive citizens of the right to amend the state’s constitution by the ballot initiative process.
The argument made by the city of Madison is the initiative is unconstitutional since there are four congressional districts and the number of signatures submitted from at least one of the four districts exceeds the one-fifth of the total number required.
The original petition says that the state Constitution prohibits the secretary of state from considering any signatures exceeding one-fifth of the total number of signatures required and state law prohibits the secretary of state from putting an initiative on the ballot that doesn’t meet the standard.
The AFP brief says that the petitioners contend that satisfying the one-fifth signature requirement has “defeated itself.”
Attorneys for Durval argue that overturning Initiative 65 would deprive Mississippians of their fundamental right to enact constitutional amendments by initiative. The brief also says that the petitioners’ “ill-disguised hostility to the merits of Initiative 65” provide no basis to alter “sound and time-honored” constitutional principles.”
It also says that it’s legally significant that three initiatives have amended the constitution based on the current language after congressional redistricting reduced the number of congressional districts from five to four.
Attorneys for Durval argue that the petitioners seeking to overturn Initiative 65 are making the case that the people lacked “wisdom and foresight” to adopt a “dysfunctional” provision that would only be operable for two years until the 2000 census. The brief says this would be tantamount to fundamental state constitutional rights being tied to fluctuations in the national population.
Durval’s amicus brief also says the “emergency petition” filed by the city of Madison days before the election was done after 142,591 Mississippians had already cast their ballots via absentee. The lawsuit was filed two years after Initiative 65 was first published, more than one year after the petition with certified signatures was filed with the Secretary of State, nearly 10 months after then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann approved the petition.
Other groups filing briefs in support of the city of Madison’s lawsuit included the state Department of Health, the state Sheriffs’ Association and the Mississippi Municipal League, which is the advocacy group for municipalities statewide.
Seven times the Legislature has proposed concurrent resolutions to change the law since 2003 and all of them have failed. The secretary of state’s office replaced the language of “any congressional district” to “from each of the five congressional districts as they existed in the year 2000” in 2009.
The change was endorsed by an opinion from the state attorney general at the time, Jim Hood, but these opinions do not carry the weight of law.
In a reply submitted by the secretary of state’s office last month, the attorneys argue that if the court rules in favor of the city of Madison’s interpretation of the ballot initiative law, existing constitutional amendments passed through the process besides Initiative 65 such as voter identification and protections against eminent domain could also be challenged and overturned using the same argument.