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Challenge to anti-walkout law could go straight to Oregon Supreme Court

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FILE - An attendee holds up a sign during a rally calling for an end to the Senate Republican walkout at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore., on May 11, 2023.

FILE – An attendee holds up a sign during a rally calling for an end to the Senate Republican walkout at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore., on May 11, 2023.

Amanda Loman / AP

Five Republican state senators who walked away from the Oregon Capitol this year are hoping to fast-track a lawsuit aimed at forcing state officials to allow them to seek reelection.

One point in their favor: The Oregon Department of Justice attorneys on the opposite side of the case agree.

In a motion filed jointly on Monday, both parties asked the Oregon Court of Appeals to send the matter straight to the state Supreme Court. That would give the state’s highest court a first, decisive crack at determining what voters actually accomplished last year when they passed Measure 113.

“Immediate review by the Supreme Court is the only effective way to resolve this dispute in a timely manner,” the joint motion said.

Many pieces of Measure 113 are not in dispute. Designed to curb the legislative walkouts that have been used increasingly by minority Republicans, the law blocks lawmakers from running for reelection if they receive 10 or more unexcused absences in a session.

The question is when those penalties kick in.

The state argues that the proposition put before voters was clear: Lawmakers would be blocked immediately from running again if they walked for 10 days.

But the plaintiffs in the case — Sens. Tim Knopp, Daniel Bonham, Suzanne Weber, Dennis Linthicum and Lynn Findley — say the language voters actually inserted into the state constitution didn’t quite do that. They believe the wording of the law actually gives them the ability to hold another term before penalties begin.

Each of the plaintiffs ran afoul of Measure 113 last year as part of a six-week walkout over bills touching on abortion, transgender care and guns that Republicans deemed extreme. They’re now suing Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade, who issued an administrative rule earlier this month barring them from running again.

Both sides say time is running out. Knopp, Linthicum and Findley all need to run next year if they want to continue serving in the Legislature. They need to know by March 12, the deadline for filing for office, whether that’s going to be allowed.

“Petitioners and other similarly situated legislators need to know whether they can file for re-election and serve if elected; the Secretary needs to know whether those legislators must be listed on the ballot (and, if so, whether they would be eligible to serve if elected); other potential candidates need to know whether incumbent legislators are running for re-election; and Oregon voters have great interest in the proper construction of a constitutional amendment that was enacted by the voters last fall,” the motion reads.

While not unheard of, it’s rare for cases to land directly before the state Supreme Court before being considered by lower court judges. The Court of Appeals must first be willing to send the case on, and Supreme Court justices must then agree to accept it.

“It means a lot that both the petitioners and the state agree,” said John DiLorenzo, the attorney representing the GOP lawmakers. “That will be of some impact, I think, on the court.”

If one court or the other balks at the request, both sides are promising to carry out the case with relative speed. They’ve agreed on a briefing schedule that would allow for oral arguments by Dec. 8.

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