Oregon Supreme Court rules GOP legislators who walked out of session are disqualified

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade’s interpretation of Measure 113, which disqualifies legislators with 10 or more unexcused absences from the 2023 Legislature from running for reelection in their immediate next term.

“I’ve said from the beginning my intention was to support the will of the voters,” said Secretary of State Griffin-Valade. “It was clear to me that voters intended for legislators with a certain number of absences in a legislative session to be immediately disqualified from seeking reelection. I’m thankful to the Oregon Supreme Court for providing clarity on how to implement Measure 113.”

“In particular, the ballot title and the voters’ pamphlet expressly and repeatedly informed voters that the disqualification would occur immediately following the legislator’s current term,” the justices said.

The court unanimously rejected Republicans’ argument that the exact language of the amendment meant they could file to run in 2024 or 2026. Voters understood the amendment to mean the immediate term after walking out not the next term after that, their ruling said.

Organizers of Measure 113, which voters approved in 2022, said they hoped it would prevent legislators from walking out. But the longest legislative walkout in state history shut down the 2023 Legislature for six weeks when Republican state senators walked out, preventing a quorum needed to hold votes.

The 10 lawmakers accumulated more than 10 unexcused absences, the trigger for the constitutional amendment, to stop movement on bills on abortion, transgender health care, and gun regulations.

Throughout the walkout, the GOP members indicated they intended to challenge Measure 113. In November, five of the 10 senators sued Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin Valade, challenging her ruling that Measure 113 banned them from running for election in 2024.

“It is clear voters intended Measure 113 to disqualify legislators from running for reelection if they had 10 or more unexcused absences in a legislative session,” Griffin-Valade said in October. “My decision honors the voters’ intent by enforcing the measure the way it was commonly understood when Oregonians added it to our state constitution.”

During a legislative session preview on Wednesday, Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, suggested he would take any decision from the Supreme Court as a win. He was not predicting another walkout “at this point,” but said Republicans would have no reason to show up if the Supreme Court did not side with them.

“Our members want to be respected and they want to be involved,” Knopp said. “We’re not taking anything off the table.”

Enacted language of Measure 113 under debate

Knopp and senators Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles; Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook; Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, and Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said the language did not immediately bar them for re-election because elections are held before elected term ends.

Both sides requested the case go straight to the Oregon Supreme Court because a decision would be needed prior to the March 2024 candidate filing deadline.

During oral arguments in December, the lawyer representing the legislators told the justices to apply the “unambiguous meaning” to the amendment and not become a “super legislature,” omitting words or adding words to fit what may have been intended but was not enacted.

Dustin Buehler, the Oregon Department of Justice attorney representing Griffin Valade, said voters’ intent was “crystal clear.”

Federal judge rejects separate Measure 113 challenge

U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken last month rejected a request from three other Republican senators who boycotted the Legislature to be allowed on the ballot after their terms end.

Sens. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, and Cedric Hayden, R-Falls Creek, were among the plaintiffs who filed the federal lawsuit to challenge their disqualification from running for reelection under Measure 113.

The walkouts “were meant to deprive the legislature of the power to conduct business,” Aiken said. “Their subsequent disqualification is the effect of Measure 113 working as intended by the voters of Oregon.”

Dianne Lugo covers the Oregon Legislature and equity issues. Reach her at dlugo@statesmanjournal.com or on Twitter @DianneLugo

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: GOP lawmakers who walked out barred from running in 2024

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