Missouri Supreme Court rejects AG’s push to inflate cost of abortion-rights amendment
BY: JASON HANCOCK – JULY 20, 2023 1:46 PM
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s efforts to inflate the cost of an abortion-rights initiative petition were unanimously rejected by the state Supreme Court Thursday, just two days after judges heard arguments in the case.
The quick verdict, which was written by Judge Paul Wilson, was scathing in its opinion of Bailey’s refusal to sign off on the work of Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick, concluding that nothing in state law “gives the attorney general authority to question the auditor’s assessment of the fiscal impact of a proposed petition.”
The ruling upheld Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem’s ruling last month ordering Bailey to sign off on Fitzpatrick’s fiscal summary within 24 hours.
Do your job, Andrew Bailey (r).
From the Missouri Supreme Court [No. SC100132] on Friday:
Dr. Anna Fitz-James (“Fitz-James”) filed a petition in the circuit court of Cole County seeking a writ of mandamus compelling Attorney General Andrew Bailey (“Attorney General”) to approve fiscal note summaries for 11 proposed initiative petitions she had filed with Secretary of State John Ashcroft(“Secretary”). After briefing and argument, the circuit court made permanent its writ of mandamus ordering the Attorney General to do so and to forward notice of that approval to State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick (“Auditor”). The Attorney General appealed, and this Court has jurisdiction pursuant to article V, section 3 of the Missouri Constitution.
Nothing in section 116.1751 gives the Attorney General authority to question the Auditor’s assessment of the fiscal impact of a proposed petition. Instead, the Attorney General’s authority extends only to reviewing the “legal content and form” of the fiscal notes and summaries prepared by the Auditor, not their substance. Because the circuit court in this case did not err in finding there was no defect in the “legal form and content” of the fiscal note summaries prepared by the Auditor concerning Fitz-James’s proposed initiative petitions, the Attorney General’s refusal to perform the plain, unequivocal, and ministerial duty of approving those summaries (and informing the Auditor he has done so) cannot be justified. The Attorney General was to have performed that task within 10 days of receiving the fiscal notes and summaries from the Auditor, a period that expired more than three months ago. Accordingly, the circuit court’s decision to make permanent its writ of mandamus requiring the Attorney General to perform that duty is affirmed.
The Auditor disagreed and, on April 21, resubmitted the original fiscal notes and fiscal note summaries to the Attorney General. The Auditor informed the Attorney General that the fiscal notes and summaries complied with the requirements set forth in chapter 116 and that the Attorney General exceeded his review authority under section 116.175.4. On May 1, the Attorney General notified the Auditor that he disagreed and refused to approve the fiscal notes and summaries and that he had fulfilled his statutory duties.
Because of this logjam, the Secretary could not – and, to this day, cannot – complete his duty by certifying the official ballot titles for the proposed petitions. The ballot title is comprised of two parts: a “summary statement” and the fiscal note summary. § 116.180. Pursuant to section 116.334.1, the Secretary prepared a “summary statement” for each of the proposed petitions and sent them to the Attorney General for his review as to “legal content and form.” The Attorney General approved them and notified the Secretary of that approval. Under section 116.180, however, the Secretary cannot certify the official ballot title for any of the proposed petitions until he receives both the approved summary statement and the approved fiscal note summary (as well as the fiscal note) pertaining to that proposed petition. Because the Attorney General refuses to perform his duty, neither the Auditor nor the Secretary can perform his.
This Court has often repeated the importance of the right to initiative enshrined in the Missouri Constitution:
Nothing in our constitution so closely models participatory democracy in its pure form. Through the initiative process, those who have no access to or influence with elected representatives may take their cause directly to the people. The people, from who all constitutional authority is derived, have reserved the “power to propose and enact or reject laws and amendments to the Constitution.”
…If technical formalities cannot stand in the way, a failure to perform a clear and unequivocal duty must not be allowed to do so either. If the Attorney General had complied with his duty to approve the Auditor’s fiscal note summaries in the time prescribed by section 116.175.4, the Secretary would have certified the official ballot titles for Fitz-James’s initiative petitions nearly 100 days ago.
For the reasons set for above, the circuit court’s judgment is affirmed.
And that is what you call a slam dunk.
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