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Time for feds to step in and restore Nevadans’ First Amendment rights

It’s been drilled into us since we were kids. That this is a nation of laws. And the supreme law of the land is the United States Constitution.

And that Constitution prohibits the federal government from passing laws to deny certain rights to the people. For example, the First Amendment stipulates that Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

And thanks to the 14th Amendment, that prohibition extends to the various states. Unfortunately for the citizens of Nevada, our government appears to have missed the memo.

While both the federal and state governments operate under a republican form of government – meaning we elect people to represent us – Nevada’s Constitution also provides for the people to petition the government directly in the form of initiatives and referendums.

The procedures and requirements for the people to petition the government through the initiative and referendum process are clearly spelled out in Article 19. The legislature’s role is also clearly outlined and strictly limited: “The provisions of this article are self-executing but the legislature may provide by law for procedures to facilitate the operation thereof.”

Facilitate. That means to make easy or easier.

But since around 2005, the Nevada Legislature has done the exact opposite. It has passed laws relating to initiatives and referendums which have made it virtually impossible for the citizens of Nevada to directly petition their government, arguably in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

And as every first-year law student knows, statutes cannot overrule the Constitution.

As such, Citizen Outreach and others filed a lawsuit in 2012 challenging dual interpretations of the “single subject” rule as applied by the courts to initiatives and legislation.

We, the people lost at the district court level, where big money special interests with no “standing” were allowed to weigh in.

So in March 2014 we appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court which, at the time of this writing, has yet to issue a decision on the case even though we are now fully into the 2016 election cycle.

Clearly the First Amendment constitutional rights of Nevada citizens to petition their government are being violated and abridged by the Nevada Legislature in collusion with lobbyists and high-priced lawyers representing deep-pocketed special interests such as the Nevada Mining Association, the Retail Association of Nevada, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and Big Gaming.

Clearly the deck is stacked against Nevada’s citizens, especially when special interest lobbyists have been afforded “standing” to defend these restrictive rules on the petitioning process in court.

Clearly the average Nevada citizen can’t get a fair shake when it comes to these onerous restrictions on their First Amendment constitutional rights.

Clearly it’s time for the federal courts to step in.

Chuck Muth is president of CitizenOutreach.com and the publisher of NevadaNewsandViews.com. An expanded version of this column can be found at MuthsTruths.com. You can reach Mr. Muth at ChuckMuth.com.

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