Nevada Policy today formally requested the state supreme court to declare unconstitutional the practice of allowing government employees to serve as state legislators.
While the Nevada Constitution bars state legislators from exercising “any functions” related to any other branch of government, this prohibition has been ignored for over 70 years, leading to a litany of abuses.
In 2003, former Assemblyman and City of Las Vegas employee Wendell Williams made explicit the conflict inherent to legislative dual service when he claimed to have voted for a particular piece of legislation that benefited his government employer in exchange for a pay raise and promotion.
Today, Nevada’s top lawmaker, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, simultaneously wields the “purely executive” power of prosecution in her other job as Clark County prosecutor — a violation of the separation of powers doctrine so blatant that it appears to be unprecedented in the history of American government.
Allowing prosecutors to serve as legislators has transformed the Legislature into an “oligarchy,” wherein Nevadans’ tax dollars go toward funding the “agenda” of law enforcement, rather than doing what “most people” want, according to former Democrat Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo.
Assembly Bill 395, which would have abolished the death penalty in Nevada, was particularly emblematic of this issue. The bill passed the Assembly along party lines but failed to receive a hearing in a Judiciary Committee chaired by Melanie Scheible, in a Senate led by Nicole Cannizzaro — both Democrats who engage in dual employment as Deputy District Attorneys serving at the will of Clark County District Attorney, Steve Wolfson, who testified in opposition to AB395 and is simultaneously advancing efforts to schedule the execution of Zane Floyd.
“That the judiciary is obligated to enforce the constitutional rules imposed upon government, and that their failure to do so would lead to tyranny, has been understood by the American judiciary since before Nevada even existed,” said Nevada Policy Vice President Robert Fellner.
“Dual service dilutes, if not destroys, the very foundation upon which the concept of Nevada’s representative government rests — that the Legislature enacts the will of the people rather than the will of the government.
“In recognition of this fact, the Nevada Supreme Court previously said that vigorous enforcement of the separation of powers doctrine is necessary for the very attainment of freedom itself,” Fellner added.
“Now we just need to see if the Court still believes Nevadans are a free people who deserve to be protected from such abuses.”
To download a copy of the opening brief filed today before the Nevada Supreme Court, please visit Nevada Policy’s Separation of Powers Case Timeline page.
For more information, please contact Nevada Policy Vice President Robert Fellner at Robert@NevadaPolicy.org.