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Judge to consider Angle’s challenge to petition law

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle believes the Nevada Legislature has strongly and repeatedly tried to make it unreasonably difficult for citizens to pursue ballot initiatives.

Angle filed a lawsuit in October that seeks to eliminate some of the myriad restrictions, and today, a federal judge could rule whether recent changes to the law are constitutional.

At the time, Angle was exploring the race for Senate.

"I’ve always had a keen interest in upholding the Constitution," she said Tuesday.

In 2004, Angle organized We the People, a grass-roots effort that sought to prevent lawmakers from increasing property taxes.

The group pursued the initiative process three times and failed each time.

According to court papers, the initial effort collapsed because the group started too late to gather the requisite multiple thousands of signatures. Lawsuits derailed the effort in 2006 and 2008. Those lawsuits created delays, and in 2008, the initiative was knocked off the ballot because of a technicality in how the signatures were presented.

Essentially, the lawsuit challenges three parts of the law:

■ The requirement that signatures must be collected in each of the state’s three congressional districts;

■ The requirement that petition circulators sign affidavits stating each signature belongs to a legally registered Nevada voter;

■ And most important, according to Angle’s attorney, a 2007 revision that limits initiative questions to a single subject.

Angle said the Legislature has violated the First, Fifth and 14th amendments. While Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat who is seeking re-election, is the lone defendant, Angle made it clear that her battle is with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — many of whom she said openly pushed to make it significantly more burdensome for the public to engage the system.

"I don’t think Ross Miller has a dog in this fight," she said. "He’s just the one who does the enforcement."

In any event, Angle remains passionate about making the initiative process easier for the public to engage, and she’ll stay involved in the litigation despite her bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, after winning the Republican primary June 8.

"This is something the people need," Angle said. "People need to be able to petition our government."

Her attorney, Kermit Waters of Las Vegas, was not as diplomatic.

"The Legislature hates the initiative process," Waters said. "It makes them look stupid. The legislators, except for a handful of them, are owned by mining and gaming."

He said roughly 25 ballot questions have failed to make the ballot because of what he calls a difficult-to-understand law that limits petitioners to a single subject.

"This is an important case," Waters said. "They want to limit free speech, violate everyone’s due process, and they want to try to keep these things off the ballot. You never get a chance to hear both sides because they (lawmakers) want to protect mining and gaming.

"They know they’d lose if the people got to vote on these questions."

Waters and Deputy Attorney General Kerry Benson have both filed court papers asking U.S. District Judge James Mahan to make a quick decision on the case without holding any further hearings.

Angle said the revised Nevada law is unconstitutional.

Benson argues in court papers that the laws are sound.

Mahan will hold a hearing on the matter at 11 a.m. today in Las Vegas.

The initiative and referenda processes have been on the books for more than a century in Nevada, which is one of 24 states that allow citizens to fully participate in democracy, Waters said. Efforts to whittle away at those rights have been going on for nearly as long, Waters said.

Contact reporter Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@ reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.

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