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CITIZENS AGAINST LEGALIZED GAMBLING v. DISTRICT OF

October 7, 1980

CITIZENS AGAINST LEGALIZED GAMBLING et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA BOARD OF ELECTIONS AND ETHICS et al., Defendants; District of Columbia et al., Intervening Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This November, an initiative which has been certified by the Board of Elections and Ethics of the District of Columbia and which will provide an opportunity for voters to approve or disapprove certain forms of legalized gambling is scheduled to appear on the ballot. Those ballots are now being printed. Plaintiffs oppose this initiative, believing that gambling is not right for the District of Columbia. They attack on constitutional grounds the procedures under which initiatives are approved, challenging in particular the legality of D.C.Code § 1-1116(o) (Supp. VII 1980), which they claim denies them their First Amendment rights and their right to equal protection under the Constitution. Plaintiffs also contend that Board Rule 1607.9, 27 D.C.Reg. 3234 (July 25, 1980), is illegal in that it fails to disqualify signatures on the petition that were obtained by circulators who were not registered voters and who thus are in violation of D.C.Code § 1-1116(h) (Supp. VII 1980).

 There have been cross-motions for summary judgment and various motions to dismiss. The matter is fully briefed and a hearing on the motions has been held. The District of Columbia has intervened as a defendant to support the validity of the initiative law.

 Furthermore, while this is a matter that should preferably be considered by the local courts, abstention in this case would, as a practical matter, end plaintiffs' challenge without any possibility of a court reaching the merits in time to provide a remedy. Accordingly, as the Court indicated at the oral hearing, it will accept jurisdiction in order to reach the merits, despite a strong belief that this is a matter better suited to review by the local courts.

 Before discussing the merits of plaintiffs' claims, it is important to outline the petition procedure for an initiative as it is established by D.C.Code § 1-1116 (Supp. VII 1980). Any voter may submit a proposed initiative to the Board of Elections. Once the proposal has been assigned a name and a number, and a summary of the initiative has been approved by the proposer and the Board of Elections, then the proposer has 180 days in which to obtain the signatures necessary to have the initiative placed on the ballot. The petition must be signed by five percent of all registered voters in the District, and, to ensure that there is broad-based support, the names submitted must include at least five percent of the registered voters in five of the city's eight wards.

 Once the names are submitted, and once it has been determined that the subject of the proposed initiative is appropriate for an initiative vote, cf. Convention Center Referendum Comm. v. District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, No. 79-857 (D.C., filed Sept. 3, 1980), then the Board of Elections has 30 days in which to certify whether or not the petition requirement has been met. D.C.Code § 1-1116(o) (Supp. VII 1980). "This certification may be by a bona fide random and statistical sampling method," or by an actual check of all signatures.

 Three days after a petition is submitted, the Elections Board must post the petition for 10 days for public inspection. During this 10-day period, any voter may challenge the validity of the petition. Plaintiffs view this 10-day period as an unjustifiably brief time in which to mount a challenge to a petition and claim it infringes plaintiffs' right to associate for the purpose of expressing their opposition to the proposed initiative. *fn1"

 Plaintiffs have attempted to put their challenge within the rubric of the "ballot access" cases. See, e.g., Illinois State Board of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party, 440 U.S. 173, 99 S. Ct. 983, 59 L. Ed. 2d 230 (1979); Anderson v. Morris, 500 F. Supp. 1095 (D.Md. 1980), affirmed, 636 F.2d 55 (4th Cir., 1980).

  But this is not a ballot access case. Plaintiffs can show no right to challenge the placement of an initiative on the ballot other than the right established by statute. *fn2" A state has a right to ensure that an initiative has a wide-base of support before it is considered by the electorate, cf. Illinois State Board of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party, supra, 440 U.S. at 184-85, 99 S. Ct. at 990-91; Moore v. Board of Elections, 319 F. Supp. 437, 441 (D.D.C.1970) (three-judge court), but that right does not necessarily extend to individual groups having an interest in the subject matter of the initiative.

 Moreover, the concerns relevant to the ballot access decisions are not relevant here. Plaintiffs are not concerned with increasing voters' opportunity to consider alternative candidates or positions; plaintiffs want to restrict determination of an issue by the voters. This is particularly inappropriate in the case of an initiative. Initiative legislation should be liberally construed to extend its operation rather than to reduce it. See, e.g., Convention Center Referendum Comm. v. District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, supra, at 30 (Gallagher, J., dissenting); Warner v. Kenny, 27 Cal.2d 627, 165 P.2d 889, 890 (1946); cf. Kamins v. Board of Elections, 324 A.2d 187, 192 (D.C. 1974).

 The fact that this is not a ballot access case does not mean that there are no First Amendment concerns. Plaintiffs have a right to associate for the advancement of political beliefs-in this case, for the advancement of the position that legalized gambling would be wrong for the District of Columbia-and the 10-day limit on challenges burdens plaintiffs' exercise of its rights by restricting the time in which it can mount an effective challenge. The statute here at issue is a content-neutral statute, passed for purposes unrelated to the suppression of expression, that nonetheless has the indirect result of burdening protected activity to some extent. As such, it is subject to scrutiny under the First Amendment.

 While the parties have cited, and the Court has uncovered, no decisions that serve as a satisfactory analogy for this case, the Court has concluded that the statute passes First Amendment muster.

 The activity infringed here is very narrow; it is the right to oppose an initiative at the point after petitions have been submitted and before the initiative has been certified for a vote. This opposition period is not a traditional public forum for expression. Numerous alternative opportunities for expression still exist. Challenges can be made through public appeals before the petition period begins, while signatures are being sought, and, most importantly, in the election process itself. Opposition ...


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