The Oregon Court of Appeals has asked the state's Supreme Court to decide whether Republican state senators who boycotted this year's legislative session will be barred from running for reelection again next year.
Republican senators earlier this year began a walkout amid concerns over measures covering abortion, transgender health care, and gun rights, leading to key bills being held up for more than a month in the Democrat-led Senate.
Todd Sprague, spokesman for the Oregon Judicial Department, confirmed the appeals court formally asked the Oregon Supreme Court to take the case on Sept. 25.
At the center of the case is a constitutional amendment known as Measure 113, which was overwhelmingly approved by Oregon voters in 2022 and bans lawmakers who have accumulated 10 unexcused absences from serving in the legislature after their terms expire.
That amendment—which was created following GOP walkouts in the legislature in 2019, 2020, and 2021—means a total of nine Oregon Republicans and an independent who clocked up at least 10 absences during this year’s legislative session may be banned from running for legislative seats in the 2024 election.
The senators were led by GOP Senate leader Tim Knopp in their walkout.
Questions Over Language in Measure 113However, they are now challenging that constitutional amendment and filed a lawsuit (pdf) against Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade, who announced on Aug. 8 that the lawmakers were disqualified from running for legislative seats next year.
According to Ms. Griffin-Valade, the courts have "emphasized" that the texts of the adopted ballot measures "must be interpreted in a way that is consistent with the voters’ intent."
Voters in Oregon, according to the secretary of state, "universally understood Measure 113 would prohibit legislators who accumulate 10 or more unexcused absences during a legislative session from holding office in the immediate next term."
The Republican senators, however, argue the language in the measure is unclear and technically allows them to serve another term. Many of them still plan to run for office next year and have already filed for reelection.
Measure 'Allows Members to Run Again in 2024'Elections in Oregon take place in November, prior to when the lawmakers' legislative terms end in January, which Republicans argue means they can serve another term before any penalties mandated by Measure 113 go into effect.
"After repeated unlawful and unconstitutional actions by President Rob Wagner and other Democrat leaders in the 2023 Session, Senate Republicans held them accountable by peacefully pausing the session to gain compliance with Senate Rules, Oregon Law, and the Oregon Constitution," the lawmaker said.
"In retaliation, Wagner was quick to impose unexcused absences on members who challenged his failed leadership. It appears the Democrat Attorney General and the Democrat Secretary of State are willing to cover for the Democrat Senate President Rob Wagner’s decision to ensure Measure 113 quashes the free speech of minority Senate Republicans as it was designed to do by political special interests," he continued. "We believe the plain language of Measure 113 allows for members to run again in 2024 elections. We disagree with the Secretary of State’s determination and will challenge it in court."
The Supreme Court has 20 days to grant or deny the request and can add up to 10 days to make a decision on the request, according to Mr. Sprague.
Republicans' walkouts came to an end in June with barely a week left in the legislative session after Democrats agreed to change language concerning some of the bills, including one that Republicans said would have allowed doctors to provide abortions regardless of a patient’s age.
Democrats also agreed to drop amendments to a bill that would have increased the purchasing age from 18 to 21 for semiautomatic rifles, along with changes to a number of other measures.