Cook v. Bell

October 27, 2014

Utah Supreme Court 

October 24  2014

2014 UT 46  (Click for full text of Opinion)

The Utah Supreme Court upheld statutory limits on the number of signatures and the time to complete a petition for an initiative.

The Utah Constitution provides that the people of the State may enact laws by initiative (and repeal legislative acts by referendum). The same constitutional provision also authorizes the Utah Legislature to regulate the initiative process, by establishing the number of signatures needed, the time frame to gather signatures, the manner in which signatures are gathered (and how the overall process is carried out), and the conditions of the initiative process.

In 2011, the Utah Legislature adopted new regulations over the initiative process.  In particular, it changed how the minimum number of required signatures was calculated (10% of the votes cast in the last Presidential election; as opposed to 10% of the votes cast in the last Governor’s election).  The new legislation also changed the time frame to gather signatures (316 days, or by April 15 of the election year, whichever is sooner).

The Utah Supreme Court determined that the new legislation was reasonable, and did not impose an undue burden on the initiative right.  The new regulations were clearly within the legislature’s authority, and were designed to make the initiative requirements clear and consistent.  Whether considered individually, or as an “aggregate” of regulations, the burdens on the initiative process are not excessive.

The Court also concluded that the new regulations do not limit free speech, and do not violate the state constitutional provision requiring uniform operation of laws.