Supremely misguided

Andy Matthews

Erin Neff, in her July 10 column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, urges the Nevada Supreme Court to throw out the voter-approved constitutional amendment imposing term limits on elected officials. After first indulging herself in a long, aimless and pointless rant – is there really a need to call Richard Ziser a homophobe in a column on term limits? – she finally gets to the crux of her argument.

And here it is:

After the ballot initiative limiting office holders to 12 years of service in a single post passed the first time in 1994, the state Supreme Court separated the question into two initiatives, one involving the judiciary, the second dealing with other elected officials. So when voters OK'd the latter for the second time in 1996, they were approving something different. Last time I consulted the state constitution, it said amendments must pass twice in identical manner to be approved.

Read the full column here.

Neff's argument – and it would actually seem a relatively strong one on its face, once she gets to it – is that one need look no further than the language of the Constitution in determining whether Nevadans' vote to impose term limits ought to be respected.

Two points in response. One, though they may have gotten there through somewhat unconventional means (for which blame belongs to the Supreme Court, not the voters), the reality is that term limits are now in fact a part of Nevada's Constitution. Period. In other words, the same Constitution that Neff invokes in calling for term limits to be thrown out just happens to include the term-limits provision itself. To remove that provision, we need to follow the correct process for doing so, which of course does not involve the Supreme Court merely pulling out an eraser. If what really has Neff bothered is that the process wasn't respected when term limits were passed (when did liberals become such sticklers for protocol, anyway?), then isn't it a little odd of her to suggest we again circumvent proper procedure in order to remove them?

And two, think of the precedent it would set if the Supreme Court were to strike term limits from the Constitution. It was the Court, after all, that decided in 1996 to split the initiative on term limits into two parts. In doing so, the Court laid out the ground rules that voters would have to follow in order to get term limits implemented. Voters followed those rules and passed term limits, but now, 12 years later, Neff thinks it's a good idea for the Court to overturn that vote because the Court's own rules were flawed? What's the Court supposed to tell the voters? "Hey, remember when we told you what you needed to do to get term limits passed? And then you did exactly that? Yeah, we were just kidding. Gotcha!"

Allowing the Court to retroactively overturn its own rulings is not, methinks, a road we want to go down. Plus, what's to stop future justices from playing around with the language of other ballot initiatives, in order to give themselves grounds for throwing out the initiative altogether if they don't like the outcome of the vote?

If Neff gets her way, nothing.