BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Two former Idaho attorneys general and a former deputy attorney general have formed a group to fight what they say are unconstitutional laws being proposed by the Legislature.
Jim Jones, who is also a former chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, announced on Monday that the Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution will engage in various activities, including legal action if needed.
“Legislators have shown an alarming disrespect for our State Constitution this session and it is incumbent upon members of the legal profession to call them to account,” Jones said in a statement.
The group said a bill to make ballot initiatives nearly impossible, another to limit a governor’s ability to respond to emergencies and others removing the attorney general’s office as the primary defender of state agencies are unconstitutional.
“We can’t and won’t stand idly by while the Legislature tries to deconstruct the remarkable Constitution that the Constitutional Convention delegates carefully crafted back in 1889 to guide our State into the future,” Jones said.
Joining Jones are former Idaho Attorney General Tony Park, former Deputy Attorney General Clive Strong, and Bruce Smith, a senior lawyer of the Idaho Bar.
Republican Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder said he hadn’t seen the announcement about the group forming and couldn’t comment specifically.
“I think it’s always good to have other eyes on things and watch what’s going on,” he said. “We are under the requirements of the Constitution, so it’s good when other people look at it.”
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office, at the request of Democratic lawmakers, has written opinions questioning the constitutionality of some of the bills, including the one that said the bill limiting a governor’s powers during an emergency.
That bill states that “declared emergencies must not restrict the right of Idahoans to work, provide for their families, and otherwise contribute to the economy of Idaho.”
The attorney general’s opinion notes that the provision in the bill potentially prevents “the Governor from declaring any kind of disaster emergency and imposing measures to address the emergency that affect anyone’s ability to spend or make money in the state.”
Republican Sen. Kelly Anthon has taken issue with that opinion.
“A legal opinion that suggests that a governor of a state can at his own discretion declare an emergency and then maintain that emergency declaration without any limitation, without any check or balance, and with the powers of that emergency suspend all the laws of the state, begs reason,” he said. “It absolutely is lacking, that analysis is absolutely lacking in any tradition of checks and balances in state government.”
The ballot initiatives bill would require signatures from 6% of registered voters in all 35 Idaho legislative districts in 18 months to get an initiative on the ballot. That’s up from the current 6% of registered voters in each of 18 legislative districts in 18 months, plus a number of signatures that equals 6% or all registered voters in the state.
The proposed law “would make it almost impossible for the people to put an initiative or referendum on the election ballot,” Jones said. “The bill is a direct attack on the bedrock principle of our Constitution — the right of the people to control their government.”
The group said it plans to gather legal talent from around the state.
“If litigation becomes necessary, we intend to rely on volunteer lawyers who will donate their services to the benefit of the Constitution,” Park said.