Oregon Supreme Court bans GOP state lawmakers who staged walkout from ballot

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Oregon’s Supreme Court on Thursday disqualified 10 state senators from reelection for participating in last year’s Republican-led walkout that paralyzed the Legislature for six weeks, delaying key Democratic bills on abortion, healthcare, and gun control.

The ruling upholds last year’s decision by Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade, a Democrat, barring the 10 lawmakers—nine Republicans and 1 Independent—from the 2024 ballot because they had accumulated more than 10 unexcused absences in violation of Measure 113, a state constitutional amendment approved by 68% of voters in 2022 following a series of Republican walkouts.

“I’ve said from the beginning my intention was to support the will of the voters,” Griffin-Valade said in a statement Thursday. “It was clear to me that voters intended for legislators with a certain number of absences in a legislative session to be immediately disqualified from seeking reelection.”

Five of the sanctioned lawmakers challenged Griffin-Valade’s interpretation of Measure 113’s language stating a lawmaker who misses 10 or more sessions is banned from running in “the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.”

As The Associated Press explained:

The debate was over when that ineligibility kicks in: If a senator’s term ends in January 2025, they would typically seek reelection in November 2024. The “election after the member’s current term is completed” would not be until November 2028, the Republican senators argued, so they could run for reelection this year and then hold office for another term before becoming ineligible.

The court disagreed, saying that while the language of the amendment was ambiguous, the information provided to voters in the ballot title and explanatory statement made clear that the intent was to bar truant lawmakers from holding office in the next term.

“If we were required to choose between petitioners’ and the secretary’s interpretations based on the text alone, petitioners would have a strong argument that their reading is the better one,” the court’s opinion states.

“But we do not review the text in a void,” the ruling adds. “We instead seek to understand how voters would have understood the text in the light of the other materials that accompanied it. And those other materials expressly and uniformly informed voters that the amendment would apply to a legislator’s immediate next terms of office, indicating that the voters so understood and intended that meaning.”

The 2023 walkout—which, at six weeks set a record in Oregon—paralyzed the Legislature and held up Democratic-led bills expanding abortion access, protecting gender-affirming healthcare, and banning so-called ghost guns. Oregon is one of only four U.S. states requiring the presence of two-thirds of its state lawmakers for a quorum.

“It is critical to our democracy that elected officials uphold the will of voters, not disrupt our constitutional rights or halt the democratic process when it does not align with their personal beliefs,” the ACLU of Oregon said in response to Thursday’s ruling.

The Oregon League of Conservation Voters said on social media that “Oregonians deserve legislators who will show up and do their jobs—and when they don’t, there must be consequences.”

“Voters were clear when they overwhelmingly passed Measure 113, and we’re glad the Oregon Supreme Court agrees,” the green group added.

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