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Group files lawsuit to keep border policing measure off Arizona ballot

Foes of what has been promoted as a “border security’’ measure filed suit Wednesday to keep it from going on the November ballot.


By Howard Fischer, Arizona Daily Star


PHOENIX — The lawsuit, filed by LUCHA (Living United for Change in Arizona), says there are constitutional and legal problems with House Concurrent Resolution 2060, approved Tuesday by Arizona’s Republican-controlled House.

The GOP-controlled Senate previously approved the measure, so the House vote sends it directly to voters, bypassing Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who had vetoed a nearly identical bill.


The strongest case for knocking it off the ballot, said LUCHA attorney Jim Barton, is that it has at least three major provisions, none of which relate directly to each other. He said that runs afoul of a provision in the Arizona Constitution limiting all measures to “one subject and matters properly connected therewith.’’


Barton said that even House Speaker Ben Toma, who crafted HCR 2060, spelled out during floor debate Tuesday that it would allow police to arrest those who cross the border illegally at other than a port of entry, require verification of the immigration status of those seeking public benefits, and enact enhanced penalties for the sale of fentanyl when it results in the death of another.


“This is not some mere technicality,’’ Barton said of the constitutional provision, saying its intent is to avoid “tucking less popular aspects into a popular measure.”


That practice is known as “logrolling,’’ where voters are presented with a take-it-or-leave-it measure.


“They have to hold their nose and vote for provisions that they don’t want to get one that they do want,’’ Barton said. “The framers of the Arizona Constitution said that’s a ridiculous way to legislate and they forbid it when they wrote our constitution.’’


Toma disagreed.


“I think all of these items are clearly related to the border,’’ the Peoria Republican said.


Alejandra Gomez, executive director of LUCHA, says Wednesday that the fight against HCR 2060 will go now to court.


On the fentanyl penalties provision, Toma cited “legislative findings’’ in the measure citing the amount of fentanyl seized at the U.S.’s Southwest border almost tripling from 2021 to 2023. “If you can prove that the fentanyl was not manufactured or brought over from Mexico, then that’s a defense,’’ he said.


Toma said it would be “ironic’’ if LUCHA got the language about fentanyl stripped from the measure before it gets to voters, saying that is the one piece that appears to have at least some bipartisan support.


Attorney Jim Barton provides details Wednesday of the lawsuit filed to block a border security measure from going on the November ballot.


But Barton said that’s not how it works. He said judges can’t decide which provisions go to voters and which do not, which is why the litigation seeks to remove the entire measure from the November ballot.


The question now is whether the Arizona Supreme Court, where the case filed in Maricopa County Superior Court ultimately will end up, finds that HCR 2060 fits the definition of “logrolling.’’


In 2021, the justices struck down a bid by lawmakers to include a host of policy decisions, such as mask mandates and dictating the kind of paper counties can use for ballots, in their state budget legislation. The court ruled that violated the single-subject rule.


But three years earlier the court found no constitutional problem with a measure that on one hand prohibited public funds from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission from going to political parties, while at the same time subjecting the commission’s rules to oversight by the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council. The justices said they were “reasonably related to one general subject.’’


Barton, in Wednesday’s legal filing, said what lawmakers approved Tuesday doesn’t fit that definition.


“HCR 2060 does not amend a specific, single act enacted by the Arizona voters or the Arizona Legislature, but rather sections of ... statutes scattered throughout several titles enacted by numerous, separate legislative acts,’’ he wrote.

He said that is grounds for an injunction to keep the measure off the November ballot.

LUCHA and other plaintiffs, including the group’s executive director Alejandra Gomez and Assistant Arizona House Minority Leader Oscar De Los Santos, are not relying on the courts to see it their way. They already are preparing for a fight at the ballot box.


“While Republicans believe this will rally their base, I can assure you that a different story will be told on the day after election,’’ said Gomez.


“It will be a story of first-time voters casting one of the biggest votes in their lifetime,’’ she said. “It will be the story of Latino voters mobilizing against hate. And it will be a story of abuelitas (grandmothers) voting hand-in-hand with their sobrinos (nephews) and grandchildren.’’


LUCHA already has a political action committee, first set up in 2020, which the lawsuit says will be in a position to take donations and spend money to urge defeat of the ballot measure.


Barton is also prepared for future legal challenges if the proposal is approved.

He said it runs afoul of another constitutional amendment that there must be a new source of revenues — outside of existing state collections — for any ballot measure that “proposed a mandatory expenditure of state revenues for any purpose.’’


There is no such source here despite reports from legislative budget analysts that there will be costs, including to police agencies enforcing the law and county jails and state prisons tasked with holding those arrested.


Barton says the measure also is “preempted by federal law” and “defective.’’

That is the basis on which the U.S. Department of Justice has sued Texas over its approval of SB 4, the model for much of Arizona’s HCR 2060.


A federal appeals court has barred enforcement of the Texas law while the case is pending, of which Arizona lawmakers are keenly aware. They included a provision here that does not allow the border-crossing crime to be enforced until at least six months after there is a final ruling in the Texas case.


Barton said making the law here conditional on what a federal court says in Texas is itself illegal.


He acknowledged, however, that judicial procedures prohibit him from raising those issues unless or until the ballot measure is approved. It is only the allegation of violation of the single-subject rule that can be heard prior to an election.


No date has been set for a hearing.


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