Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on proposed Initiatives #67 (2021-2022), #115 (2021-2022) and #128 (2021-2022), and whether they violated the single-subject requirement of the Colorado Constitution. Each indicative included provisions that would allow food retailers already licensed to sell beer to also sell wine, and provisions that would authorize third-party delivery services to deliver all alcoholic beverages sold from licensed retailers to consumers at their homes. After review, the Supreme Court determined the Initiatives violated the single-subject requirement, and the Title Board lacked jurisdiction to set titles for them. Accordingly, the Board’s actions were reversed. View "Fine v. Ward" on Justia Law

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In an original proceeding filed to the Colorado Supreme Court, at issue were the final legislative redistricting plans for the Colorado Senate and House of Representatives, adopted and submitted to the Court by the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission (the “Commission”). Under article V, section 48.3, the Court's jurisdiction was limited to whether the Plans complied with the criteria listed in section 48.1 of article V, and the Court had to approve those Plans unless the it concluded the Commission abused its discretion in applying or failing to apply those criteria in light of the record before it. Finding no such abuse of discretion here, the Colorado Court approved the Plans and ordered the Commission to file those Plans with the Colorado Secretary of State as required by article V, section 48.3(5). View "In re Colo. Indep. Legis. Redistricting Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court reviewed the state's final congressional redistricting plan adopted by the Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission pursuant to article V, section 44.5 of the Colorado Constitution. The Court concluded the Commission did not abuse its discretion in applying the criteria in article V, section 44.3 in adopting the Plan on the record before it. The Court therefore approved the Plan for Colorado’s congressional districts for the ensuing decade, and ordered the Commission to file the Plan with the Colorado Secretary of State no later than December 15, 2021, as required by article V, section 44.5(5). View "In re Colo. Indep. Cong. Redistricting Comm'n" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Colorado voters Amendments Y and Z to the state constitution that vested the authority to draw congressional and legislative districts with new, independent commissions made up of ordinary voters. The Amendments laid out instructions for how the commissions should draw district maps, including criteria to be considered in determining boundaries and detailed timetables that require public feedback and judicial review of the final plans. The cascading deadlines set out in Amendments Y and Z were based on an assumption that the United States Census Bureau would release its decennial census data in a timely fashion, as required by federal law. Delays caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, mean that the Census Bureau was operating months behind schedule and did not yet to release crucial redistricting data to which the redistricting commissions expected to already have access. This delay has thrown into question the feasibility of complying with the timelines established by Amendments Y and Z. To address the resulting uncertainty, the General Assembly introduced Senate Bill 21-247 (“SB 21-247”). Among other things, the bill would amend a recently enacted statutory definition of “necessary census data” to allow the commissions’ work to move forward based on preliminary census data and any other state or federal demographic data the commissions see fit to consult. The General Assembly petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to exercise its original jurisdiction and answer two interrogatories about Amendments Y and Z. The Court determined the Amendments did not require the exclusive use of final census data as the commissions and their nonpartisan staff begin their work; the commissions wer thus free to consult other reliable sources of population data, such as preliminary census data and interim data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. However, the Court determined the General Assembly did not have the power to compel the independent commissions or their nonpartisan staff to consider a particular source of population data or take any action beyond what Amendments Y and Z already required. “The Amendments were expressly intended to remove the General Assembly from the redistricting process, instead vesting all authority to draw district maps with independent commissions. Under this new scheme, the General Assembly has a discrete and limited role in appropriating funds for the commissions and nominating a limited number of applicants for consideration as commission members.” View "In re Interrogatories on Senate Bill 21-247 Submitted by the Colorado General Assembly" on Justia Law

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On March 10, 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis declared a disaster emergency pursuant to the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Since that time, the Governor relied on his authority under the Act to issue a wide range of executive orders suspending certain statutes, rules, and regulations in an effort to prevent further escalation of the pandemic and mitigate its effects. Among these was Executive Order D 2020 065 (“EO 65”), which (1) suspended the operation of certain statutes governing the ballot initiative process that require signature collection to take place in person; and (2) authorized the Secretary of State to create temporary rules to permit signature gathering by mail and email. Petitioners filed this lawsuit against Governor Polis and Secretary of State Jena Griswold, seeking a preliminary injunction against enforcement of EO65 and a declaratory judgment finding the Order unconstitutional under the Colorado Constitution and unauthorized under the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act. After ordering expedited briefing, the district court held a remote hearing via WebEx on May 22. In its May 27 Order, the district court concluded that (1) petitioners had not established the necessary factors outlined in Rathke v. MacFarlane, 648 P.2d 648 (Colo. 1982), to obtain a preliminary injunction; and (2) petitioners had not established an entitlement to declaratory relief under C.R.C.P. 57. The court also found that the petitioners’ claims against the Secretary were not ripe because she had not yet promulgated the temporary rules that EO 65 had authorized. The Colorado Supreme Court determined Article V, section 1(6) of the Colorado Constitution required ballot initiative petitions be signed in the presence of the petition circulator. "That requirement cannot be suspended by executive order, even during a pandemic." Judgment was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ritchie v. Polis" on Justia Law

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Proponents-respondents Monica Vondruska and Jon Caldara submitted proposed Initiative #293 to the Title Board for the setting of a title and submission clause. Initiative #293 proposed to add section 22 to article X of the Colorado Constitution and to amend certain statutory provisions in Titles 24 and 39 of the Colorado Revised Statutes in order to create a new preschool program. The measure implements the new preschool program, in part, by: (1) redirecting certain state cigarette and tobacco tax revenue away from local governments that ban selling tobacco or nicotine products and to the new preschool program and (2) reallocating a portion of the cigarette and tobacco taxes collected under article X, section 21 of the Colorado Constitution that are currently allocated to several health-related programs (Initiative #315 differed from Initiative #293 to the extent that Initiative #315 also added a ten percent sales tax on tobacco-derived nicotine vapor products). Petitioner Anna Jo Haynes then filed a motion for rehearing, asserting that the title did not satisfy either the single subject or clear title requirement. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the title that the Title Board set for Initiative #293 presented a single subject, namely, the creation and administration of a Colorado preschool program funded by reallocating existing taxes on, and other revenues derived from, tobacco and nicotine products. Furthermore, the Court concluded the title satisfied the clear title requirement because it described Initiative #293’s central features succinctly, accurately, and fairly and in a manner that will not mislead voters. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Title Board’s actions in setting the title for Initiative #293. View "In re Title, Ballot Title & Submission Clause for 2019 (Initiative 293)" on Justia Law

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Proponents-respondents Monica Vondruska and Jon Caldara submitted proposed Initiative #315 to the Title Board for the setting of a title and submission clause. Initiative #315 proposed to add section 22 to article X of the Colorado Constitution and to amend certain statutory provisions in Titles 24 and 39 of the Colorado Revised Statutes in order to create a new preschool program. This program would be created by reallocating revenue generated by existing state taxes on tobacco products and tobacco litigation settlements and by levying a new sales tax on tobacco-derived nicotine vapor products. Petitioner Anna Jo Haynes then filed a motion for rehearing, asserting that the title did not satisfy either the single subject or clear title requirement. Upon review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the title that the Title Board set for Initiative #315 presented a single subject, namely, the creation and administration of a Colorado preschool program funded by state taxes on nicotine and tobacco products. Furthermore, the Court concluded the title satisfied the clear title requirement because it described Initiative #315’s central features succinctly, accurately, and fairly and in a manner that will not mislead voters. View "In re Title, Ballot Title & Submission Clause for 2019 (Initiative 315)" on Justia Law

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Michelle Ferrigno Warren, a candidate for the United States Senate, was unable to collect the statutorily required 1,500 signatures in six of the seven required congressional districts. Ferrigno Warren argued that her name should have nevertheless been placed on the ballot because, under the "unprecedented circumstances" presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, her efforts demonstrated “substantial compliance” with the Election Code’s requirements. The Secretary of State disagreed, arguing that “substantial compliance” should be determined by the application of a mathematical formula that discounts the signature requirement by the number of days signature collection was impeded by the pandemic. While the Colorado Supreme Court recognized the uniqueness of the current circumstances, it concluded nontheless that the legislature alone had the authority to change the minimum signature requirements set out in the Election Code. Because Ferrigno Warren did not meet the threshold signature requirement, the Secretary properly declined to place her on the ballot. View "Griswold v. Ferrigno Warren" on Justia Law

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In April 2019, Monica Colbert and Juliet Sebold sought to have titles set for eight ballot initiatives. Each of the proposed initiatives was designed to create an “Expanded Learning Opportunities Program” for Colorado children, but each included a different funding mechanism. The Title Board held a hearing on the eight initiatives; it declined to set titles for two, Initiatives #74 and #75, after concluding that both proposed initiatives contained multiple subjects in violation of the Colorado Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court was asked, in its original jurisdiction, whether a statement in section 1-40-107(1)(c), C.R.S. (2019), that “[t]he decision of the title board on any motion for rehearing shall be final, except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, and no further motion for rehearing may be filed or considered by the title board” – meant what it said. The Court responded, “yes”: Section 1-40-107 contemplated only a single Title Board rehearing on a proposed initiative title. The Court therefore affirmed the decision of the Title Board declining to consider a motion for a second rehearing on Proposed Initiative 2019–2020 #74 and Proposed Initiative 2019–2020 #75. View "In re Ballot Title #74, & No." on Justia Law

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The Colorado Title Board set a title for Proposed Ballot Initiative 2019–2020 #3 (“Proposed Initiative”) that reads, in pertinent part, “An amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the repeal of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado constitution.” The Board also ultimately adopted an abstract that states, regarding the economic impact of the Proposed Initiative. A challenge to the Proposed Initiative was presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review, and after such, the Court concluded the title and abstract were clear and not misleading, and that the phrase “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” as used in the title, was not an impermissible catch phrase. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the decision of the Title Board. View "In re Proposed Ballot Initiative 2019" on Justia Law