Posts Tagged ‘Personhood’

Carson Judge Rules Against Personhood Petition Seeking To Define Life As Starting At Conception

By Sean Whaley | 6:08 pm December 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – A Carson City district judge today ruled an initiative petition to amend the state constitution to define human life as beginning at conception was too vague and so could not be circulated to qualify for the November 2012 ballot.

Carson City District Judge James Wilson ruled from the bench after an hour of argument from attorneys representing Personhood Nevada and the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the proposal in court.

“It looks to me like this is unnecessarily broad,” Wilson said at one point in the hearing. He also said it was vague and did not clearly state what its intent was. The description of effect required for such ballot measures was also unclear and could not be rehabilitated, he said in his ruling.

Olaf Vancura and Candy Best with Personhood Nevada talk about their proposed initiative petition before a court hearing today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Attorney Gary Kreep, with the United States Justice Foundation based in California, represented Personhood Nevada. He said the proposal to amend the Nevada constitution to define a person as starting at “biological development” was clear and did not violate the requirement that ballot proposals deal with a single subject.

He acknowledged that the effects  of the proposed change to the constitution to include the phrase “the term ‘person’ includes every human being” could be numerous, however, as the definition was applied to various areas of state law.

But Kreep said the ramifications of the proposal would become clear to voters as the measure was debated before election day.

ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, representing Nevada voters opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment, argued that registered voters would not have a clear understanding of what the effect of the proposal would be if asked to sign the petition to place the measure on the ballot.

Opponents of the proposal were happy with Wilson’s ruling.

“Obviously we’re pleased that the court agreed with us that it’s important that voters fully understand the sweeping impacts that these initiatives would have and we’re pleased to see that this one cannot go forward,” said Elisa Cafferata, president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

Kreep said after the hearing the group will have to assess whether to appeal the decision to the Nevada Supreme Court. The Personhood group lost on similar grounds in 2010 when it tried to circulate a similar petition to Nevada voters.

Personhood Nevada could potentially file a revised initiative petition with the secretary of state’s office, but then the legal review process would begin all over again.

“The abortion providers, according to Congressional testimony by former employees, make millions and hundreds of millions of dollars off of selling body parts,” Kreep said following Wilson’s ruling. “They get hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid. And it feeds the attorneys who litigate for them to keep the death machine going.”

Wilson on Monday ruled that a separate proposed constitutional amendment submitted by the Nevada Prolife Coalition to outlaw abortion did not violate a rule for ballot measures requiring them to address only a single subject and he allowed the petition to go forward.

Cafferata said opponents are still evaluating whether to appeal that decision to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Groups seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot would need to collect 72,352 valid signatures by June 19. The measure would have to be approved by voters twice, in 2012 and again in 2014, to take effect.

Before the hearing, Olaf Vancura, a member of the Board of Directors of Personhood Nevada, said the proposed amendment is simple: “The sole purpose of this initiative is to clarify the definition of what a person is in the state of Nevada. And that’s why it is a simple seven words, ‘the term person includes every human being.’ ”

The Personhood effort is a national one, with measures being sought for placement on the ballot in several states. One test of the measure came in Mississippi in November, where it was rejected by voters.

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Audio clips:

Elisa Cafferata, president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, says opponents of the Personhood petition are pleased with the ruling:

122111Cafferata :16 cannot go forward.”

Olaf Vancura, a member of the Board of Directors of Personhood Nevada, says the proposals is simple:

122111Vancura :12 every human being.”

Attorney Gary Kreep, representing Personhood Nevada, says abortion supporters make millions on the practice:

122111Kreep :15 death machine going.”

Carson Judge Rules Anti-Abortion Initiative Petition Can Go Forward

By Sean Whaley | 1:26 pm December 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A district judge today ruled against pro-choice advocates seeking to stop an initiative petition that proposes to outlaw abortion by declaring that life begins at conception.

An appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court is likely.

The 12-page judgment from Carson City District Judge James Wilson said the proposed constitutional amendment submitted by the Nevada Prolife Coalition does not violate a rule for ballot measures requiring them to address only a single subject.

Carson City District Judge James Wilson.

“Prolife’s initiative may have effects in various areas including common birth control methods, the treatment of ectopic pregnancy, in vitro fertilization treatment, and stem cell research,” Wilson said. “But those effects flow from a single subject and purpose, prohibiting the taking of prenatal life.”

Wilson did find that the “description of effect” required for imitative petitions, which sets out what would happen if it was approved by voters, was inadequate. Rather than reject the proposed petition, however, he ordered a new description to be used as the group gathers signatures to qualify the measure for the 2012 general election ballot.

Supporters of the measure would need to collect 72,352 valid signatures by June 19 to have it placed on the November 2012 general election ballot. The measure would have to be approved by voters twice, in 2012 and again in 2014, to take effect.

The Carson District Court will hear oral arguments in the challenge of a second anti-abortion measure on Wednesday. The Personhood Nevada initiative would also declare that life begins at conception and place the definition in the Nevada constitution.

Opponents of the measures say that if approved, the initiatives could ban vital health services by granting legal protections to fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses.

Opponents of the proposal, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Nevada and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, highlighted the fact that Wilson changed the wording of the measure in a press release.

“This misleading initiative could have tricked voters into supporting a measure that would have banned a range of vital health services,” said Dane S. Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. “We’re relieved that the court refused to allow proponents to deceive voters in this manner.”

The Personhood effort is a national one, with measures being sought for placement on the ballot in several states. One test of the measure came in Mississippi in November, where it was rejected by voters.

Legal Challenges Filed To Halt Anti-Abortion Ballot Measures

By Sean Whaley | 4:06 pm October 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Two initiative petitions filed with the Secretary of State’s office that would amend the state constitution to outlaw abortion by declaring that life begins at conception are already facing legal challenges from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

The petitions were filed in September by Personhood Nevada and the Nevada Prolife Coalition.

A pro-life group is symbolically gagged during a vigil in front of the Supreme Court in Washington DC. / Photo by Ben Schumin on February 1, 2006.

Supporters of the measures would need to collect 72,352 valid signatures by June 19 to have them placed on the November 2012 general election ballot. The measures would have to be approved by voters twice, in 2012 and again in 2014, to take effect.

A lawsuit was filed Thursday against the Personhood initiative. The second legal challenge was filed today against the Nevada Prolife proposal. The lawsuits argue the initiatives are vague and misleading.

Nevada law allows petitions to be challenged before signatures can be gathered.

Personhood Nevada tried to circulate a petition for the 2010 general election ballot but the effort did not survive a similar court challenge. Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell ruled the proposed petition was too vague. The Nevada Supreme Court later rejected an appeal saying the issue was moot.

Opponents of the measures say that if approved, the initiatives could ban vital health services by granting legal protections to fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses.

“We see over 50,000 patients each year in our Nevada health centers. They rely on Planned Parenthood for a wide range of health care, including basic preventive care that could become illegal if this ballot initiative becomes law,” said Elisa Cafferata, president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “In these tough economic times, we shouldn’t be taking away access to lifesaving preventive health care.”

Chet Gallagher, who is heading up the Prolife Coalition effort, said he is not surprised that the groups are attempting to defeat the initiatives even before signature collection efforts can begin. But it is disappointing that the groups are trying to keep voters from having a say in the debate, he said.

“We want to give the voters an opportunity to vote on whether or not abortion should end in our state,” he said. “So I’m a little perplexed when groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, who profess to be pro-choice, would attempt to disenfranchise the voters, keeping them from actually voting on it.

“We’re not real happy that we’re being sued in court by people who should be protecting our freedoms instead of disenfranchising voters,” Gallagher said.

The two ballot groups are working together, Gallagher said. Voters haven’t had a say on the abortion issue since 1990, when a constitutional amendment keeping abortion legal in Nevada was approved by voters.

Gallagher has been a long-time anti-abortion advocate after losing his job as a Las Vegas police officer in 1989 for participating in an anti-abortion rally while on duty.

“We believe children in the womb are persons,” said Gallagher, who also noted that Nevada is one of 38 states that have a law against fetal homicide. “The duplicity has to be exposed.”

Candy Best of Las Vegas, the spokeswoman for the Personhood petition drive, expressed similar concerns about the legal challenge.

“That has been, apparently, the strategy, to just run out our time clock according to the deadlines in place by the initiative process, but we’re going forward,” she said. “There is an initiative process in place with the state of Nevada. And we, as citizens of the state, should be able to follow that process without constantly being shut town.

“We’re merely trying to get the initiative on the ballot and let the people of Nevada make a decision on their own,” Best said.

But Dane Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said it serves no one’s interest to move forward with initiative petitions that are clearly unconstitutional.

“It’s a waste of everyone’s resources to present voters with a choice that would be invalidated later if not sooner,” he said. “This notion that voters should be able to sign petitions for an ‘unconstitutional’ constitutional amendment is just kind of silly. We need to respect the voters of Nevada more than that. We need to respect their time, their intelligence and the entire process.”

The new initiatives have the same flaws that were raised successfully in the last election cycle, Claussen said.

“And now there are two defective initiatives instead of only one,” he said.

An effort by a separate ballot advocacy group to challenge Nevada’s processes for qualifying initiative petitions following the 2008 election cycle failed to get the rules changed in any significant way. Because of the rules, legal challenges to petition drives are commonplace in Nevada before signatures can even be collected.

No groups were successful in getting measures on the ballot in 2010, the first time that had happened since 1992.

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Audio clips:

Prolife Coalition spokesman Chet Gallagher says voters should have a chance to weigh in on the abortion issue:

101411Gallagher1 :18 voting on it.”

Gallagher says he is being sued by groups that are supposed to be protecting voter rights:

101411Gallagher2 :07 disenfranchising the voters.”

Personhood Nevada spokeswoman Candy Best says the strategy is to run out the clock by using legal challenges:

101411Best1 :12 we’re going forward.”

Best says citizens should be able to put a measure on the ballot:

101411Best2 :19 on their own.”

Dane Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, says it is a waste of resources to present voters with a choice that will be invalidated:

101411Claussen1 :11 if not sooner.”

Claussen says the idea that voters should be able to sign petitions for an unconstitutional amendment is silly:

101411Claussen2 :23 the entire process.”

Initiative Petition Deadline Looms, Groups Have Until June 15 To Qualify Measures For November Ballot

By Sean Whaley | 2:25 pm June 4th, 2010

CARSON CITY – While voters and political observers are focused on the Tuesday primary, Nevadans seeking access to the November ballot for measures they are pushing to amend the state Constitution have another key date in mind.

June 15 is the deadline for groups pushing their amendments to turn in the nearly 100,000 signatures they need to qualify the measures for the ballot. There are three initiative petitions to amend the state constitution still active, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

The only constitutional measure that is certain to see signatures turned in to the clerks of the state’s 17 counties by the deadline is one seeking to increase the mining tax.

“We’re continuing our collection efforts and we’re getting close,” said Jan Gilbert, Northern Nevada coordinator of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “I’m always optimistic.”

Gilbert said she does not know the precise number of signatures collected so far because the more than 300 volunteers doing the work have not all turned in their petitions yet. The collection effort is continuing even as the group faces yet another court challenge to the proposal before the Nevada Supreme Court on Monday.

The measure would change the Nevada constitution to require the mining industry to pay taxes on no less than 5 percent of the gross proceeds rather than no more than 5 percent of the net proceeds, on their mineral extraction efforts.

The status of two other measures, one aimed at ensuring employees have the right to vote in secret when deciding to join a union, and another explicitly mandating secret voting in all elections, could not be determined when calls were not returned.

One other measure, the Personhood petition to define life as beginning at conception, lost a challenge in Nevada District Court. The Nevada Supreme Court has not yet ruled on an appeal. The group did not respond to an inquiry about whether the signature gathering process is still under way.

Several other measures have been withdrawn by the proponents.

Other active measures to change state law, such as a proposal by Gov. Jim Gibbons to subject public employee labor discussions to the open meeting law, have a different deadline.

Gilbert said PLAN is pushing for the change to Nevada’s mining tax law because of a belief the industry is not paying enough in taxes, especially now that gold is valued at more than $1,200 an ounce. If the PLAN proposal was in effect in 2008, for example, mining companies would have paid $284.4 million in taxes to state and local governments instead of the $91.8 million that was paid by the industry.

The proposal will see its second challenge from the Nevada Mining Association on Monday, when the Nevada Supreme Court considers whether it violates a requirement that such petitions deal only with a single subject. The court will also consider whether the petition is a proper use of the initiative process.

Tim Crowley, president of the Nevada Mining Association, said the key issue before the court is whether the petition is proper because it directs the Legislature to take certain actions regarding the mining tax.

“We do believe the initiative is flawed in several ways,” he said. “What they are calling for in the initiative is to force the Legislature to change law, and in our opinion you can’t bind a Legislature to do anything.”

Crowley said the proposal, if approved by voters, would be crippling to the mining industry, particularly for the geothermal industry and those operations providing materials to the construction industry.

“Those businesses cannot endure that type of a tax,” he said. “So it is something that causes us great concern.”

Crowley also noted that the measure would not do anything to solve the state’s current budget problems, since it would have to be approved by voters twice, this year and again in 2012, before it could take effect.

“Our primary focus is fixing today’s fiscal issues,” he said.

Gilbert said the legal challenges are just another attempt by the well-funded mining industry to derail the measure and prevent voters from having their say.

“It’s hard to fight such a well-funded effort,” she said. “We’re hopeful on the Supreme Court case as well.”

A ruling against the PLAN initiative would remove it from the ballot whether the group had gathered enough signatures or not.

Following the submission of the signatures to county clerks, a verification process begins to determine if there are enough names or registered voters to qualify. Petitions require 97,002 signatures from the state’s three Congressional districts. A check is then made to assess whether enough of the signatures are from valid registered voters.

If all the requirements are met, a measure would be qualified for the November general election ballot.

Audio Clips:

060410Gilbert1 :09 make that deadline.”

060410Crowley1 :31 the ballot initiative.”

060410Crowley2 :23 the geothermal industry.”

Personhood Appeal Filed with Nevada Supreme Court

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:21 pm February 12th, 2010

NewsReview.com has a post on the appeal of the petition that was overturned by a District Judge in early January.

Opposition to Personhood Amendment Puts Nevada Anti-Abortion Groups in Unusual Company

By Sean Whaley | 5:28 pm November 18th, 2009
CARSON CITY – It isn’t every day that Nevada anti-abortion groups find themselves on the same side as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU in a political dispute, but that is what happened this week in regard to the proposed “Personhood Nevada” ballot initiative.

If approved by voters, the state constitutional amendment being pushed by a conservative Nevada group would define “a person” as anyone having a human genome. The goal is to protect all human life, from conception to death, by prohibiting abortion and assisted suicide.

The wording of the measure has been challenged in Carson City District Court by the ACLU of Nevada and Planned Parenthood for being too vague.

On Tuesday, two anti-abortion groups, Nevada Life and Nevada Eagle Forum, announced their opposition to the measure, which was filed in October by Richard Ziser, chairman of a group called Nevada Concerned Citizens. The measure, which would require nearly 100,000 signatures to get on the ballot, is modeled after similar proposals pushed by anti-abortion advocates in other states.

Don Nelson, president of Sparks based Nevada Life, said being on the same side of the abortion debate as Planned Parenthood is just an unfortunate circumstance.

“They are against the petition because they want to destroy the pro-life movement,” he said of Planned Parenthood. “We are against it because we want to save the pro-life movement.”

Nevada Life embraces the concept of the personhood movement, but not the strategy of putting a measure on the ballot, Nelson said.

The Personhood Nevada initiative is misguided because it runs contrary to current U.S. law as embodied in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. As a result, it will be struck down in an inevitable legal challenge and so not stop even a single abortion, he said.

It could also give activist judges in states where it may be approved by voters the chance to make rulings that could weaken existing protections designed to limit abortions, Nelson said.

The number of abortions has come down in the U.S. in the past two decades despite a huge population increase, the result of successful efforts by Nevada Life and Nevada Eagle Forum and similar groups in changing public opinion, he said.

Rather than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an imitative fraught with legal problems, the money could be better spent electing anti-abortion candidates to elective office, Nelson said.

The opposition of the two groups should make it more difficult for Ziser to qualify the Personhood measure for the ballot, he said.

Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the ACLU of Nevada, said the opposition of the two groups did come as a surprise. But the concerns are similar, she said. The ACLU legal challenge is based on the belief that the initiative is so vague and open to interpretation as to make it impossible for voters to know what they are actually voting on.

“It is certainly heartening that even groups who are firmly pro-life believe that this particular initiative is vague and misleading and could lead to a poor interpretation that the voters could never expect,” Rowland said.

Elisa Maser, president & CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said voters have the right to know exactly what they are voting on and the proposed initiative does not make it clear what the full impact would be.

Ziser could not be reached for comment on the announcement by the two groups.

The group has until May to qualify the measure for the ballot. Voters would have to approve it twice, in 2010 and 2012, before it could take effect.