State’s unjust prosecution

By Paul Greenberg Published: January 7, 2009
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The name Paul Jacob is familiar here in Arkansas, where he led the struggle to get term limits adopted in Arkansas. Then he went national as head of U.S. Term Limits and now runs an outfit called Citizens in Charge.

It seems Jacob has never outgrown his need to put the people, not the politicians, in control of their government. One needn’t agree with his ideas to admire his commitment — or defend his right to express them.

But anyone so interested in reform was bound to rile an establishment with an overweening sense of entitlement. So when Jacob and his merry band of reformers showed up in Oklahoma, they naturally attracted the attention of Drew Edmondson, that state’s attorney (and zealot) general.

This time Jacob and company were gathering signatures for a proposal that would have limited that state’s legislators’ power to spend, spend, spend. Their reward for this show of civic interest? Jacob and his fellow signature-gatherers, Rick Carpenter and Susan Johnson, were indicted.

The charge? Being part of a criminal conspiracy, to wit democracy. Or as General Edmondson phrased it, attempting to defraud the state by hiring folks from outside Oklahoma to help them gather signatures.

Even though, according to Jacob, these reformers sought signatures only from duly registered Oklahomans. And had consulted state officials beforehand to make sure that they were following the rules. No matter. They were indicted anyway. Welcome to Oklahoma.

But there is justice after all — thanks to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court now has struck down Oklahoma’s law forbidding nonresidents from circulating petitions. Its ruling follows similar ones, just as unanimous, in the Sixth and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in cases from Ohio and Arizona.

To quote the 10th Circuit, the right to circulate petitions in the United States of America is "core political speech,” and so is fully protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Thank you, founding fathers. Thank you, courts that uphold it.