192 P.3d 1166 (Nev. 2008), 51735, We People Nevada ex rel. Angle v. Miller

Docket Nº:51735.
Citation:192 P.3d 1166
Opinion Judge:PER CURIAM:
Party Name:WE the PEOPLE NEVADA, by and through its Chair, Sharron ANGLE, Petitioner, v. Ross MILLER, In his Official Capacity as Secretary of State in and for the State of Nevada, Respondent.
Attorney:Hansen Rasmussen, LLC, and Joel F. Hansen, Las Vegas, for Petitioner., Catherine Cortez Masto, Attorney General, C. Wayne Howie, Solicitor General, and Nhu Q. Nguyen, Senior Deputy Attorney General, Carson City, for Respondent., Don P. Chairez and Law Offices of Kermitt L. Waters and Kermitt L. W...
Case Date:September 25, 2008
Court:Supreme Court of Nevada
 
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192 P.3d 1166 (Nev. 2008)

WE the PEOPLE NEVADA, by and through its Chair, Sharron ANGLE, Petitioner,

v.

Ross MILLER, In his Official Capacity as Secretary of State in and for the State of Nevada, Respondent.

No. 51735.

Supreme Court of Nevada.

September 25, 2008

Page 1167

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1168

Hansen Rasmussen, LLC, and Joel F. Hansen, Las Vegas, for Petitioner.

Catherine Cortez Masto, Attorney General, and Nhu Q. Nguyen, Senior Deputy Attorney General, Carson City, for Respondent.

Don P. Chairez, Las Vegas and Law Offices of Kermitt L. Waters and Kermitt L. Waters, for Amici Curiae Nevada Eagle Forum, Nevadans for Sound Government, Nevada Committee for Full Statehood, Nevada Concerned Citizens, Citizens in Action, Foundation to Protect and Defend the Nevada Constitution, Independent American Party, Nevada Families Education Foundation, Nevada Republican Liberty Caucus, Title of Liberty Foundation, People Organized for the Next Generation, and the Nevada Freedom Coalition.

Dyer, Lawrence, Penrose, Flaherty & Donaldson and Michael W. Dyer, James W. Penrose, and Paul D. Cotsonis, Carson City, for Amicus Curiae Nevada State Education Association.

Legislative Counsel Bureau Legal Division and Brenda J. Erdoes, Legislative Counsel, Risa B. Lang, Chief Deputy Legislative Counsel, and Kevin C. Powers, Senior Principal Deputy Legislative Counsel, Carson City, for Amicus Curiae Legislature of the State of Nevada.

McCracken, Stemerman & Holsberry and Richard G. McCracken and Andrew J. Kahn, Las Vegas, for Amicus Curiae Nevadans for Nevada.

BEFORE THE COURT EN BANC.1

OPINION

PER CURIAM:

The primary issue raised in this original petition is whether the current version of NRS 295.056(3), which requires initiative petitions that propose constitutional amendments to be submitted for signature verification “ not later than the third Tuesday in May," is constitutional in light of Article 19, Sections 2(4) and 3(2) of the Nevada Constitution. Article 19, Section 2(4) requires that initiatives proposing to amend the constitution must be filed with the Secretary of State within a certain period of time before a general election. Under Article 19, Section 3(2), additional time may be added to what is otherwise provided for in Article 19 for the enactment of a submission deadline, which is the deadline reflected in NRS 295.056(3). Thus, to determine whether NRS 295.056(3) is constitutional, we must interpret Article 19, Sections 2(4)'s and 3(2)'s language.

When Section 2(4) is read in conjunction with Section 3(2), Section 2(4)'s language is rendered ambiguous because there appears to be more than one reasonable interpretation of Section 2(4)'s language. One reasonable interpretation of Section 2(4) creates a fixed filing deadline, but a second equally reasonable interpretation allows for a flexible filing deadline. Since the constitutional provision's language is ambiguous, we review the legislative history of each constitutional provision and the statutory provision at issue, as well as Article 19's constitutional scheme, in an effort to harmonize Sections 2(4) and 3(2) to give Section 2(4)'s language its proper interpretation and effect.

In light of the legislative history and considering Article 19's constitutional scheme as a whole, we determine that Section 2(4)'s language establishes a fixed filing deadline. Thus, the time period stated in Section 3(2) may be added to the fixed filing deadline under Section 2(4) to give the Legislature a specific block of time within which it may

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establish a submission deadline for signature verification.

Accordingly, we conclude that NRS 295.056(3) impermissibly restricts the powers reserved to the people under Article 19 by establishing a submission deadline earlier than what is otherwise permitted by Article 19, Sections 2(4) and 3(2) of Nevada's Constitution and thereby directly inhibiting the initiative process. NRS 295.056(3) is therefore unconstitutional, and we grant the petition for a writ of mandamus.

RELEVANT FACTS AND HISTORY

In September 2007, petitioner We the People Nevada, a political action committee, through its chair Sharron Angle, filed with respondent Secretary of State its initiative petition entitled “ The Nevada Property Tax Reform Initiative for Nevada." The initiative was challenged twice in district court, and each time the challenger stipulated to dismiss its challenge in exchange for We the People's withdrawal of the initiative. Subsequently, in February 2008, We the People filed a third initiative petition that was not challenged, and it began circulating that initiative for signatures.

NRS 295.056 required We the People to submit in proper form the requisite number of valid signatures to the county clerk's office in each county where signatures were collected by May 20, 2008. According to We the People, the individual delivering the required documentation to the Clark County Clerk's Office missed the deadline. Moreover, We the People acknowledges that it did not have enough signatures by May 20 to have the initiative certified for the November 2008 ballot.2 Although We the People missed the deadline for submitting the signatures that it collected, the Clark County Clerk accepted the documentation. Nevertheless, after the Clark County Clerk apparently transmitted the documentation to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State rejected the signatures as untimely. This writ petition followed. The Secretary of State has filed an answer, as directed.3 We the People was permitted to file a reply that includes documentation indicating that after it filed its writ petition with this court, it recirculated its initiative and gathered additional signatures. The additional signatures were submitted to the Washoe and Clark County clerks for verification in the event that this court declares NRS 295.056(3) unconstitutional, which, according to We the People, would revive the statutory provision's former version under which the deadline was June 17, 2008. Ultimately, We the People requests that this court declare NRS 295.056(3) unconstitutional and issue a writ of mandamus or prohibition compelling the Secretary of State to accept all initiative petitions filed up to and including June 17, 2008.

DISCUSSION

In resolving this writ petition, we first address whether writ relief is available. After concluding that our extraordinary intervention is warranted, we consider the provision's constitutionality in light of Article 19, Sections 2(4) and 3(2). In doing so, we first review each constitutional provision's plain language to determine whether the provisions can be applied in accordance with their plain meaning. Because, however, there is more than one reasonable interpretation of Section 2(4)'s language and the application of each interpretation renders inconsistent results, we turn to the legislative history of each constitutional provision and the statutory

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provision at issue and consider Article 19's constitutional scheme to give Section 2(4)'s language its proper interpretation and effect. Considering the legislative history and constitutional scheme, we conclude that NRS 295.056(3) is unconstitutional because it establishes a submission deadline earlier than what is otherwise allowed by Article 19, Sections 2(4) and 3(2) of Nevada's Constitution.

Standard for writ relief

A writ of mandamus is available to compel the performance of an act that the law requires as a duty resulting from an office, trust, or station, or to control a manifest abuse of discretion.4 Mandamus's counterpart, the writ of prohibition, is available to arrest the extra jurisdictional exercise of judicial functions.5 Writs of mandamus and prohibition are generally available when no plain, speedy, and adequate legal remedy exists.6 Both mandamus and prohibition are extraordinary remedies, and whether a petition will be considered is within our sole discretion.7 In particular, we may exercise our discretion to issue a writ when “ an important issue of law needs clarification and public policy is served by this court's invocation of its original jurisdiction" 8 or when a writ petition raises an issue that presents an “ urgency and necessity of sufficient magnitude" 9 to warrant our consideration. As the petitioner, We the People bears the burden to demonstrate that our intervention by way of extraordinary relief is warranted.10

We the People asserts that writ relief is warranted because this writ petition's resolution will determine the constitutionality of the Legislature's 2007 amendment to NRS 295.056(3), which moved the submission deadline for initiative petitions earlier in the year by approximately 30 days. Indeed, this writ petition raises issues of significant magnitude as the resolution potentially has an impact on this year's election as well as future general elections because our consideration will resolve the parameters for legislative enactment of a submission deadline. Thus, we conclude that this court's extraordinary intervention in this matter is warranted.11

Principles of constitutional and statutory interpretation

Resolution of this petition depends upon the interpretation of NRS 295.056(3) and two constitutional provisions, Article 19, Sections 2(4) and 3(2). In discerning their meaning, we rely on well-established precepts of statutory and constitutional construction. In the context of a writ petition, a statute's interpretation is reviewed de novo.12 The rules of statutory construction apply to the interpretation of a constitutional provision.13 Unless ambiguous, a statute's language is applied in accordance with its plain meaning.14 When the Legislature's...

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