CARSON CITY — The decision to ban sanctuary cities laws in Nevada still might make its way to the voters after the state Supreme Court partially overturned a lower court ruling Wednesday.
But that path is an unlikely one for the divisive proposal — at least for 2018.
Nevada ballot measures must pass a two-part test to qualify: It must contain only a single subject and clearly describe the effects the initiative would have if passed.
The American Civil Liberties Union challenged that language in a lawsuit, and Carson City District Judge James Russell ruled in January the “Prevent Sanctuary Cities” initiative is “excessively broad and general” and likely to confuse voters.
But Nevada’s high court concluded that the initiative deals only with one subject: preventing the state and local governments from passing any laws that interfere with federal immigration laws.
“And it is clear that each of the initiative’s components are ‘functionally related’ and ‘germane’ to that purpose,” the order said.
Justice Michael Cherry, the sole dissenting opinion in the case, disagreed with his peers, arguing that the initiative encompasses a variety of issues and subjects, including “schools, health care and welfare programs.”
“In this matter, the initiative may mislead voters into supporting a petition that they otherwise would not because they are unaware of the initiative’s reach,” Cherry wrote in his dissenting opinion.
The Supreme Court did agree with the lower court’s finding that the language summarizing the impact of the measure is too broad, concluding that it is “deceptive and misleading” by not detailing how the initiative would specifically limit local governments from carrying out certain programs and functions.
However, the order remanded that aspect of the challenge back to the lower court in order to give the initiative’s crafters the chance to rewrite the description of effect.
And that could be a death knell for the measure’s chance of appearing on the November ballot.
To qualify for this year’s ballot, the group will need to gather more than 112,000 signatures, including at least 28,136 from each of Nevada’s four congressional districts, by June 19.
Republican State Senate Leader Michael Roberson, a candidate for lieutenant governor who has spearheaded the anti-sanctuary cities push, recognized that fact but called the ruling “a victory in the longer term.”Aiming for the 2020 ballot is still in play for the measure, he said.
“Our efforts have been delayed, but our right to bring this question to the voters for their decision will not be denied,” Roberson said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which serves as co-counsel to the plaintiffs in the challenge to Roberson’s initiative, also called the ruling a victory.
“We’re thrilled the Court recognized this petition’s deceptive nature,” said Amy Rose, legal director for ACLU of Nevada. “This is a victory for Nevada’s immigrant communities and also for Nevada voters, who deserve to know exactly what they’re signing when endorsing a petition that would alter the Nevada Constitution.”