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Stanwitz v. Reagan - 11/27/2018

Arizona Supreme Court holds that A.R.S. § 19-118(C), which requires petition circulators to appear for trial when subpoenaed, is constitutional both facially and as applied.

A political committee filed signature petitions with the Secretary of State seeking to qualify an initiative for the ballot.  A group of citizens challenged the validity of certain petitions on the ground that the circulators had failed to register as required by law and were ineligible to circulate petitions.  The challengers served several subpoenas on petition circulators requiring their appearance at an evidentiary hearing.  Many of the circulators had listed a commercial office leased by the committee as their address and the subpoenas were served upon a security guard at that address. 

None of the subpoenaed circulators appeared at the hearing and the challengers asked the court to disqualify all petitions circulated by those circulators pursuant to A.R.S. § 19-118(C).  In response, the Committee challenged the constitutionality of § 19-118(C) and other statutes.  Before the superior court issued its decision, the Secretary concluded that the initiative was approximately 2,000 valid signatures short of qualifying for the ballot.  The superior court then issued a ruling in which it upheld the constitutionality of all statutes challenged by the committee, including § 19-118(C), and voided the petitions circulated by the non-appearing circulators, resulting in the disqualification of 8,824 signatures.  

The parties filed expedited appeals and the Supreme Court affirmed.  The parties agreed that whether the initiative could qualify for the ballot hinged on the validity of the signatures collected by the non-appearing circulators.  The Supreme Court therefore only considered (1) the constitutionality of § 19-118(C), and (2) whether the superior court properly excluded the petitions circulated by the non-appearing circulator and did not consider any other issues raised by the parties.  The Court noted that the right of citizens to enact laws by initiative is subject to reasonable regulation by the legislature.  The portions of § 19-118 requiring that some circulators register before gathering signatures and creating a cause of action to challenge circulator eligibility were exercises of the legislature’s authority to regulate the initiative process, the Court reasoned.  The committee argued that § 19-118(C) is facially unconstitutional because it unduly restricted the initiative process, but the Court disagreed, holding that the Committee failed to show that § 19-118(C) was invalid in all circumstances.  In addition, the Court concluded that § 19-118(C) furthers the constitutional purpose of the initiative process by “ensuring the integrity of signature gathering by reasonable means.”

The Court also concluded that § 19-118(C) is constitutional as applied because the challengers raised serious allegations as to the circulators’ qualifications and there was no reason to disturb the trial court’s conclusion that the challengers were prejudiced by being unable to examine the subpoenaed circulators. 

Justice Lopez authored the unanimous opinion of the Court.

Disclosure: Osborn Maledon attorneys were involved in this case.

Posted by: Nathan Arrowsmith

Posted On: 1/2/2019