Political Speech

Judge Rejects Request From Oregon Senators Who Boycotted Legislature Seeking 2024 Run

oregon state capitol
Front exterior of the Oregon State Capitol building in Salem, Oregon. (M.O. Stevens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

By The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge has rejected a request from Oregon Republican state senators who boycotted the Legislature to be allowed on the ballot after their terms end.

U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken issued the decision Wednesday.

State Sens. Dennis Linthicum, Brian Boquist and Cedric Hayden were among the plaintiffs who filed the federal lawsuit to challenge their disqualification from running for reelection under Measure 113. The voter-approved constitutional amendment, which passed by a wide margin last year, bars legislators from seeking reelection after 10 or more unexcused absences.

Each of the three senators racked up more than 10 absences during a record six-week walkout that paralyzed the 2023 legislative session. The boycott stemmed from bills on abortion, transgender health care and guns.

The lawmakers sought, among other things, a preliminary injunction to prevent the secretary of state’s office from enforcing their disqualification from the ballot. The office in September disqualified Linthicum and Boquist from the 2024 ballot, court filings show. Hayden’s term ends in January 2027.

The senators argued that walkouts are a form of political protest protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“The Senators were punished solely for exercising their First Amendment rights,” their attorneys said in court filings.

Aiken disagreed with their claims in her opinion.

“However, these walkouts were not simply protests — they were an exercise of the Senator Plaintiffs’ official power and were meant to deprive the legislature of the power to conduct business,” she wrote.

“Their subsequent disqualification is the effect of Measure 113 working as intended by the voters of Oregon,” she added.

The Oregon Senate and House of Representatives must have two-thirds of their members present in order to have a quorum and conduct business. In recent years, Republicans have protested against Democratic policies by walking out of the Legislature and denying a quorum in a bid to stall bills.

The federal suit named Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade and Democratic Senate President Rob Wagner as defendants. The senators claimed, among other things, that Wagner violated their First Amendment right to freedom of expression and their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by marking their absences as unexcused.

Attorneys from Oregon’s justice department representing Griffin-Valade and Wagner argued the First Amendment does not protect legislators’ refusal to attend legislative floor sessions.

“Under Oregon law, a senator’s absence has an important legal effect: without the attendance of the two-thirds of senators needed to achieve a quorum, the Senate cannot legislate,” they wrote in court filings.

The federal court decision was issued one day before the Oregon Supreme Court heard a separate challenge to the measure. In oral arguments before the state’s high court in Salem Thursday, a lawyer for a different group of Republican state senators argued that confusion over the wording of the constitutional amendment means that legislators whose terms end in January can run in 2024.

Griffin-Valade, the secretary of state, is also a defendant in that lawsuit. Earlier this year, she said the boycotting senators were disqualified from seeking reelection in 2024. She directed her office’s elections division to implement an administrative rule to clarify the stance. She said the rule reflected the intent of voters when they approved the measure last year.

All parties in the suit are seeking clarity on the issue before the March 2024 filing deadline for candidates who want to run in next year’s election.