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U.S. Supreme Court to decide if it will hear Oklahoma's 'personhood' dispute

by Chris Casteel Published: October 29, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce soon whether it will wade into the controversy over an effort to define “personhood” in the Oklahoma Constitution.

Proponents of a personhood amendment want the justices to determine whether the Oklahoma Supreme Court wrongfully blocked a petition drive to get the question on a statewide ballot. The Oklahoma court ruled the initiative, aimed at outlawing abortion, would violate the U.S. Constitution.

Four of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices would have to agree to hear an appeal of the Oklahoma court's decision.

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said it was “extremely unlikely” that the U.S. Supreme Court would take the case.

Kiesel said there were no federal issues for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider. Oklahoma has the right to govern its own ballot initiatives, Kiesel said, and federal courts have given states broad authority in that regard.

The decision by the Oklahoma court to block the petition, Kiesel said in an interview, was “a matter of efficiency” since signatures on initiative petitions are expensive to collect and verify. The Oklahoma court protected the initiative process from a ballot question that was “manifestly unconstitutional,” he said.

Petition blocked

Mathew Staver, an attorney for Liberty Counsel, the group that is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, said the Oklahoma court had actually undermined the initiative process and denied residents the right to vote. The Oklahoma court, he said in an interview, acted prematurely in ruling on the abortion issue before a state question was even approved or implemented by the Legislature.

“The initiative itself doesn't affect abortion,” Staver said.

If the personhood amendment were approved by Oklahoma voters and the Legislature implemented it, then a constitutional challenge to abortion restrictions could be made, Staver said.

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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