ACLU of Hawaii Challenges Passage of Constitutional Amendment

November 22, 2004 12:00 am

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State Legislature Did Not Follow Proper Ballot Procedures, Voters Charge


HONOLULU – The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed a lawsuit today asking the state supreme court to invalidate an approved ballot measure to change the state constitution, charging that the legislature failed to follow mandatory requirements for proposing constitutional amendments.

“The state constitution protects fundamental rights that affect every individual,” said Patrick Taomae, one of 38 registered voters represented in the lawsuit. “Checks and balances are in place to ensure that the state legislature cannot rush through measures without giving the public ample notice and opportunity to weigh in. In this case, those protections were ignored.”

In the lawsuit, the ACLU charges that Constitutional Amendment 1 was not properly approved by state lawmakers before being placed on the general election ballot. Proposed amendments are required to pass three readings in each chamber before being sent to the governor. Question 1 started out as a bill in the House and only became a proposed constitutional amendment after it reached the Senate.

“We are asking the court to make it clear what is permitted when amendments to our constitution are proposed so that, in the future, the public will have fair notice of legislative proposals which could significantly affect them,” said ACLU of Hawaii Legal Director Lois K. Perrin.

Question 1 would overturn a state supreme court decision last year that upheld constitutional legal protections for individuals accused of sexual assault. The court ruled that where a defendant is charged with multiple acts of sexual assault against a minor, juries must be unanimous on at least three of the occasions in order to convict the individual under Hawaii’s continuing sexual-assault law, which can result in a 20-year prison term. The ACLU said that Question 1 would erode long-established rights of the accused by eliminating due process requirements.

“Constantly tinkering with the state constitution to overturn court decisions that preserve fundamental rights is dangerous,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Earle A. Partington. “A sad trend has emerged in Hawaii where our constitution has become a target for diminishing rights rather than a beacon for protecting them.”

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