Utah Supreme Court dives deeper on constitutionality of legislature overturning Congressional maps

Jul 17, 2023, 4:30 PM | Updated: 9:25 pm

the state capitol is pictured, the utah supreme court is seeking more information about a redistric...

The Utah State Capitol is pictured in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Kira Hoffelmeyer/ KSL NewsRadio)

(Kira Hoffelmeyer/ KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY — After oral arguments last week, Utah’s Supreme Court has asked for supplemental briefings over an issue with potentially big implications for the case — and the future of initiatives in Utah.

Ultimately, the question the court is diving deeper into is: Did Utah’s legislature violate Utahns’ rights to alter and reform their government when they overturned a law enacted by a statewide ballot initiative? Does it matter that this law deals with redistricting?

If the people do have this ultimate right through the initiative process, the justices will ultimately be weighing in on whether this power of the people applies to any law created through a statewide ballot initiative, or if there are some criteria — like redistricting — when the legislature can step in and reform or repeal a law created by the citizens.

Late last week, Utah’s high court asked for those briefs from each side’s lawyers. Justice John Pearce asked each side:

If the court were to conclude that a) the people’s article 1 section 2 right to alter or reform their government is a fundamental right, and b) the people exercised that right when they enacted Proposition 4:

1) Should a level of scrutiny apply in determining whether SB200 [the legislatures’s law overturning the maps] violated the people’s right to alter or reform their government?

2) If so, what level of scrutiny should apply?

3) Should the level of scrutiny vary based on the nature of the particular changes to Proposition 4 that Plaintiffs challenge?”

Better Boundaries, the group that pushed Proposition 4 on the ballot and who is supporting the plaintiffs financially, sent an email to followers signaling how they feel about the justices asking for further briefings.

“The plaintiff’s received some heartening news,” the email read before describing that the justices are calling for them over their claim that the repeal of Prop 4 was unconstitutional. 

“It means the justices are working to ensure that they have a thorough understanding of all the arguments and information necessary to render a final decision on this crucial claim,” the email stated.

Utah’s legislative leaders also responded in a brief statement.

“We appreciate the Utah Supreme Court taking time to review the case thoroughly,” said State Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Salt Lake City, and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, jointly.

What does this mean for the case?

KSL Legal Analyst Greg Skordas said the call for these briefings doesn’t signal one way or another which way the justices will go. And, he added, supplemental briefings from the court are common. 

“The plaintiffs should feel a little bit like their position is being heard,” Skordas said.

At the same time, he said it doesn’t mean that the case is over in any way for the state.

“The legislature should by no means feel defeated at all by this,” he said, “It’s still 50/50 to decide ultimately how these districts are going to be divided [and] who’s right it is to do that.”

As for a read on the justices’ decision, Skordas said they asked probing questions on both sides of this issue.

“The justices could have dismissed the case outright and bought into the legislature’s argument,” he said. “They didn’t do that so they’re clearly looking into this much more closely than the legislature would have hoped.”

Sen. Mike Lee’s arguments

Utah Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, took to Twitter Sunday to lay out the arguments he would make on behalf of the legislature. 

“It is of course true that Article VI, Section 1 of the Utah Constitution allows for laws to be enacted either through the legislature or by statewide initiative. But not every legislative act can be enacted by statewide initiative,” he wrote.

He went on to say that article Article VI says nothing about redistricting, but rather that the topic is addressed later in Utah’s constitution Article IX.

“Unless I’m missing something, that means that, if a law were enacted by statewide initiative purporting to make redistricting decisions beyond the reach of the legislature—and without giving the legislature the final word on the matter—it would violate Article IX, Section 1,” he claimed.

“That casts significant doubt on the legal theory raised in the now-pending litigation,” said Lee. “That theory suggests that the Utah Constitution places limits on the legislature’s authority to modify or repeal a redistricting law passed by statewide initiative.”

One commenter in Lee’s Twitter thread challenged Lee’s interpretation of Utah’s constitution.

“The legislature may have the power to draw districts but the people have the right to reform their government by requiring that that power be exercised in a manner that does not prejudice elections to the extraordinary benefit or detriment of a particular party or group,” wrote Alan Wessman.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Crime, Police + Courts

Donald Trump at podium...

Lauren del Valle and Kara Scannell, CNN

Trump fraud trial begins in New York on Monday: What to know

Trump inflated his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion in three separate years between 2011 and 2021, according to the attorney general’s office.

5 hours ago

Ambulance and first responders...

Ashley Fredde,

Murray police searching for driver who police say hit and killed a pedestrian in Murray

MURRAY — Murray police are looking for a driver who police say hit and killed a pedestrian in a hit-and-run crash Friday night. About 9:45 p.m., a pedestrian was about 30 feet south of a crosswalk in the northbound lanes of 900 East and approximately 6300 South in Murray, police said. The fatal crash may […]

5 hours ago

Photo of a SLCPD cruiser...

Devin Oldroyd

SLCPD arrests three suspects in Sunday morning shooting investigation

A Salt Lake City Police Department investigation resulted in the arrest of three individuals involved in a shooting early Sunday morning.

22 hours ago

SALT LAKE CITY — An infant’s body has been located after the mother was charged with planning ...

Mary Culbertson

Infant body found after mother arrested, charged with planning his death

An infants body was located after the mother was arrested and charged with aggravated murder and took police to the location she said she left the body, off I-80 near Parleys Canyon.

1 day ago

SAINT GEORGE, Utah -- A high-speed pursuit started in St. George Saturday and ended in Mesquite, Ar...

Derrick Jones

Shots fired in southern Utah pursuit

St. George police pursued a man through southern Utah, Nevada, and Arizona after he attempted to break into a home.

1 day ago

Unified Police car pictured with sirens on, a man was just hit in a midvale crash...

Derrick Jones

Update: South Salt Lake Police Department finds missing fourteen-year-old

A 14-year-old girl that was missing since Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023 has been located safe according to police.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Aerial photo of Bear Lake shoreline with canopies and people camped out on the beach...

Visit Bear Lake

Last-Minute Summer Vacation Planning? Check Out Bear Lake!

Bear Lake is the perfect getaway if you are last-minute summer vacation planning. Enjoy activities with your whole family at this iconic lake.

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Utah Supreme Court dives deeper on constitutionality of legislature overturning Congressional maps