A crucial case garners very little attention
The federal appellate court hearing in Denver Monday was largely overshadowed by other events: the ongoing budget fight in Washington, the continuing cleanup of flood damage on the Front Range and that little football game on Monday night that attracted one or two fans in Colorado.
But this court case may be the most important case you’ve never heard of, or at least have paid very little attention to. The Daily Sentinel’s Charles Ashby wrote about it on Monday.
It involves legal action over Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Amendment, or TABOR. But it could have implications far beyond that amendment or even the borders of Colorado.
Additionally, the case amounts to a civics textbook lesson on how our system of government works, how government decisions are to be made, and how they may be challenged.
The case began two years ago when several current and former elected officials sued the state of Colorado in federal court, claiming TABOR is unconstitutional. Their argument is that the citizens’ initiative, which sets limits on revenue for state and local government and prohibits tax increases without a vote of the people, violates a requirement in the body of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees every state will have a republican form of government. That guarantee means elected representatives in state legislatures must have the authority to determine revenue and spend money for the states, without constraint by any citizens’ amendment, the plaintiffs argue.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and his staff have responded that TABOR, as well as other citizens’ initiatives are part of the democratic process authorized under Colorado’s Constitution, and individual states are allowed to define their own rules.
But a federal judge has already rejected part of the state’s argument. Judge William Martinez refused to dismiss the case, saying that while citizens of Colorado have the right to amend the state Constitution, they do not have the right to approve unconstitutional provisions.
Martinez did not rule specifically on the constitutionality of TABOR. He simply allowed the case to move forward. But the state appealed that ruling, which is the reason it went before a federal appeals court in Denver on Monday. It’s expected the case will eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
If the case is ultimately decided in favor of the plaintiffs, it would nullify the TABOR Amendment, and that would be a huge change in public policy in Colorado.
But even more significant for Colorado and the many states around the country that allow citizens’ initiatives, a victory for the plaintiffs may effectively limit the initiative process, at least with respect to ballot measures that involve taxes, spending and budget matters.
That’s why, no matter what occurred with the Denver Broncos Monday night, or may occur in Washington in coming weeks, this court case could have more far-reaching effects.