Evaluating the ballot explanation of J.A.I.L.

In what might be considered a somewhat ironic twist, Bill Stegmeier, South Dakota’s, tells the Associated Press that J.A.I.L. plans to take Attorney General Larry Long to court over the ballot explanation Long’s office wrote for the J.A.I.L. measure.

Stegmeier claims Long’s explanation is intended to persuade voters to reject the proposed constitutional amendment. “He’s campaigning is what he’s doing. He’s campaigning with public funds,” Stegmeier told the AP. He also said some of the explanation “is just plain inaccurate and misleading.”

Well let’s review the ballot explanation for accuracy sentence-by-sentence.

“Citizens serving on juries, school boards, city councils, county commissions, or in similar capacities, and prosecutors and judges, are all required to make judicial decisions.” TRUE (See here and here, for example).

“Their decisions may be reversed on appeal, [TRUE: Parties have a right to appeal judicial-type decisions of courts, school boards, county commissions and administrative agencies, to name a few] or they may be removed from office for misconduct [TRUE] or by election.” [TRUE].

“However, they cannot be made to pay money damages for making such decisions.” TRUE.

“This allows them to do their job without fear of threat or reprisal from either side.” TRUE (see also Brech v. Seacat, 170 N.W.2d 348 (S.D. 1969)).

“The proposed amendment to the State Constitution would allow thirteen volunteers to expose these decision makers to fines and jail, [TRUE (J.A.I.L. Sections 3 and 16)] and strip them of public insurance coverage [TRUE (J.A.I.L. Section 19] and up to one-half of their retirement benefits, [TRUE (J.A.I.L. Section 18] for making decisions which break rules defined by the volunteers.” [TRUE (J.A.I.L., Section 3)].

“Volunteers are drawn from those who submit their names and registered voters. TRUE (J.A.I.L. Section 13).

“The proposed amendment is retroactive.” TRUE (J.A.I.L. Section 11).

“The volunteers may penalize any decision-maker still alive for decisions made many years ago.” TRUE (J.A.I.L., Section 1).

SIDE NOTE: I actually might quibble with this one. There’s nothing in the amendment that precludes someone from attempting to sue the estate of a deceased judge, school board member or similar individual and Section 23 of J.A.I.L. says the amendment takes precedence over any “statute, case law, common law, or constitutional provision.”

“If approved, the proposed amendment will likely be challenged in court and may be declared to be in violation of the US Constitution.” So TRUE that this is also also the opinion of the Idaho Attorney General (PDF files).

“If so, the State may be required to pay attorneys fees and costs.” TRUE.

J.A.I.L.’s problem is the explanation is accurate and truth is death for the amendment. Still, the sum and substance of the foregoing may have been summed up best by Joel at Straight Talk: “They are going to lose – and then they will blame the ‘corrupt’ Judicial System – and then of course say (we told you so) ‘this is why we need reform.'”

[T]he focus of a ballot explanation is restricted. It must clearly, simply, and succinctly identify and summarize the purpose and legal effect of a proposed amendment to an already educated and informed voter who has ten minutes in which to vote.

Hoogestraat v. Barnett, 1998 SD 104

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