Oklahoma AG drops case against ‘Oklahoma Three’

Following the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ rejection of his arguments in the case Yes on Term Limits v. Savage, Oklahoma’s Attorney General has declined further appeals in the case and dropped a criminal case that charged leaders of a ballot initiative with conspiracy.

Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) Vice President Stephen Hoersting served as co-counsel to Yes on Term Limits, along with attorney Todd Graves, a partner with Graves Bartle & Marcus in Kansas City, Missouri. CCP is a nonprofit organization which advocates for First Amendment-protected rights of speech, assembly, and petition.

"Paul Jacob and his colleagues, who were engaged in First Amendment-protected political activity by organizing the circulation of ballot petitions, should never have been prosecuted by Attorney General Edmonson in the first place," Hoersting said. "His prosecution demonstrated the danger that limits on the First Amendment rights of speech, assembly and petition represent to citizens who want to advocate on behalf of their favored candidates and causes."

In December, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an Oklahoma law restricting the circulation of ballot or candidate petitions to state residents. Edmondson did not initially accept the ruling, and indicated he would appeal. He filed a second motion asking for a full court review. On Wednesday, judges at the turned down the state’s request.

The appellate court ruled that the state’s ban on nonresident circulators violated the First Amendment’s free speech protections as well as the Fourteenth Amendment. The court wrote that circulation petitions is "core political speech" and deserves the highest level of First Amendment protection. The appellate court also found that the record did not support the state’s contention that nonresident circulators are a greater risk to engage in fraud.

"Oklahoma has failed to prove that banning all nonresident circulators is a narrowly tailored means of meeting its compelling interest," the ruling stated. "Oklahoma has also failed to prove the ineffectiveness of plausible alternatives to the blanket ban on nonresidents."

Oklahoma’s law was one of the most restrictive ballot initiative laws in the country, barring activists not planning permanent residency from exercising their political speech rights by circulating petitions. In Oct. 2007 Virginia activist Paul Jacob and two others were indicted for conspiracy to defraud the state for hiring out-of-state petitioners to collect signatures to put a taxpayers’ bill of rights proposal on the ballot. The maximum penalty for their alleged crime of exercising their political speech rights was a fine up to $25,000 and ten years in prison.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.