Term limits initiative will appear on North Dakota ballot, Supreme Court rules
Justice Jerod Tufte wrote in the unanimous opinion that Secretary of State Al Jaeger "misapplied the law" by invalidating every signature associated with one notary when only some petitions should have been tossed for notary issues.
BISMARCK — The North Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that a measure to impose term limits on state politicians should appear on the November ballot.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced in March that a proposed measure to set term limits on state legislators and governors would not make the ballot after about 29,000 of the roughly 46,000 signed petitions turned in by the sponsoring group failed to meet legal standards. The group needed 31,164 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
But a Supreme Court ruling released on Wednesday, Sept. 7, sided with the group of conservative activists and politicians behind the term limits initiative.
Justice Jerod Tufte wrote in the unanimous opinion that Jaeger "misapplied the law" by invalidating every signature associated with one notary, Zeph Toe, when only some petitions should have been tossed for notary issues.
"Our research, both inside and outside the election context, has revealed no precedent supporting invalidation of a class of documents notarized by an individual notary on the basis of imputing fraud relating to some of the documents," Tufte wrote.
More than 15,700 signatures Jaeger rejected should have been deemed valid, according to the ruling.
The constitutional term limits measure would set an eight-year cap on service by the governor and state legislators, though lawmakers could serve up to eight years each in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Supporters of the measure say term limits would inject fresh blood and new ideas into government and mitigate incentives for lawmakers to cater to establishment politicians in hopes of moving up the power structure.
Measure detractors say eliminating tenured lawmakers' institutional memory allows bureaucrats and lobbyists to assert more control.
Fifteen states, including South Dakota and Montana, have active term limits on legislators, and legislators or courts in six states have repealed term limits that were previously in effect, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. No states have passed new term limit requirements since Nebraska in 2000.
The supreme court decision overrules a Bismarck district judge's August ruling that the state acted properly in rejecting thousands of signatures.
The 491-page lawsuit brought by measure chairman Jared Hendrix last month accused Jaeger of applying "a series of factually and legally unsupportable theories until he identified a path that would ostensibly invalidate enough signatures to keep the Initiative off the ballot."
Hendrix called Wednesday's ruling "a big win for not only the term limits initiative itself, but the Powers Reserved to the People under the North Dakota state constitution.”
"We are grateful that truth and the rule of law prevailed in the ND Supreme Court’s decision today,” Hendrix said in a statement.
Jaeger said at a Wednesday press conference there's no doubt in his mind the term limits group committed fraud during signature gathering.
Although the Republican officeholder stood by his office's signature evaluation, he acknowledge the high court's ruling and said the measure will be placed on the ballot.
Attorney General Drew Wrigley, who represented Jaeger's office, said the signature-gathering process was clearly "riddled with fraud," but the Supreme Court's decision is "legitimate" nonetheless.
When Jaeger rejected the measure, he also alleged the term limits group had violated state law, including paying illegal bonuses to petition gatherers.
The alleged violations were referred for a criminal investigation to Wrigley, who passed the matter on to the Ward County State's Attorney's Office.
Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents searched petitioner Charles Tuttle's home last month for evidence that he paid unlawful bonuses to signature gatherers. The investigation is ongoing.