November 30, 2008 - 10:00 pm
In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo ruling — in which the liberal justices formed a 5-4 majority to OK government land seizures on behalf of private parties — local attorney Kermit Waters put together a ballot initiative designed to limit such outrageous abuses of eminent domain in Nevada.
The proposed constitutional amendment, known as the People’s Initiative To Stop The Taking of Our Land (PISTOL), would have to pass twice — in 2006 and 2008 — to become law.
Well, you’d have thought that Mr. Waters had attacked baseball, apple pie or even double-digit pay raises for government workers. The howls from the state political establishment were loud and shrill. The measure, they argued, was so Draconian that governments would have a hard time seizing land for even legitimate purposes such as road building.
Opponents of the measure sued to prevent voters from passing judgment. While the Nevada Supreme Court did modify the initiative, the justices then let it go forward and it passed easily in 2006.
Realizing that they would likely lose again in 2008 — they did, as the amendment was approved with 61 percent support — opponents arrived in Carson City for the 2007 session with a plan. Craft a compromise with Mr. Waters, get lawmakers to approve the plan twice and put the new proposal in front of voters in 2010 as an effort to override the original amendment.
Mr. Waters eventually embraced a legislative proposal that he says contains 90 percent of his original initiative. It easily passed the Legislature in 2007 and will almost certainly win approval by lawmakers in 2009 before heading to voters the next year.
In the interim, however, Mr. Waters’ first proposal — having passed twice — is now the law. Meaning the mewling from the public sector has started all over again.
Opponents of PISTOL were back in court this week asking a judge to stay its application until voters have their say on the new measure in 2010. “Do you want PISTOL for the next two years with all its problems?” Bradley Schrager, an attorney representing two Clark County government agencies and a union front group, argued before a Carson City judge on Tuesday.
It’s not clear what “problems” Mr. Schrager is talking about. At any rate, arguing that a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution should be ignored for two years because it might cause “problems” for government agencies is the height of imperial arrogance and simply outrageous.
Thankfully, District Judge James Todd Russell agreed, holding that he would be compromising the rights of Nevada citizens if he granted the request. PISTOL will remain Nevada law — at least until such time it is amended or rescinded through the proper statutory channels.
And that’s the way it should be.