The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that a proposal to deny most state services to illegal immigrants cannot appear on the November ballot.
The ruling may mean the issue is dead for this year because a key deadline for the November ballot is past, the secretary of state's office said.
The proposed constitutional amendment, promoted by Defend Colorado Now, violates a state constitutional requirement that initiatives deal with only one subject, the court said in a 5-2 opinion.
The measure aimed to decrease public spending for the welfare of illegal immigrants in Colorado and restrict access to administrative services, the ruling said.
"Today's Supreme Court decision is a victory for all of Colorado," said Fredrico Pena of Keep Colorado Safe. "We will be spared a costly and dangerous proposal that would have caused health and safety problems for Colorado citizens."
Proponents, who include former Democratic Gov. Dick Lamm, already had begun gathering petition signatures to get the measure on the ballot. The state Title Board approved the measure's language this spring.
Dana Williams, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Gigi Dennis, said the last meeting of the Title Board to approve the wording of ballot issues was in May.
"This is outrageous judicial activism, Exhibit A in how courts disregard precedent to reach a political result," Lamm said in a statement. "This isn't law, it is raw, naked politics."
Activist Manolo Gonzalez-Estay challenged the measure in court after the Title Board rejected his request to reconsider its approval of the initiative's language.
Fred Elbel, director of Defend Colorado Now, has said if the court found a problem with the measure, he would revise it and supporters would begin gathering signatures anew.
The measure would not stop the state from paying for federally mandated services such as public education or emergency medical care. But Elbel has said it would prevent illegal immigrants from receiving welfare and in-state college tuition.
Gonzalez-Estay and Elbel did not immediately return calls. Opponents including former Denver Mayor Federico Pena scheduled a news conference later Monday.
The Supreme Court had approved a similar proposal for the 2004 ballot, rejecting a challenge that it was misleading. Proponents were unable to gather enough signatures and it did not get on the ballot.
This year, proponents had argued that the court could not reverse its decision from 2004. The court disagreed, saying the measure had been challenged on different grounds, and that state law requires the justices to review any challenges.
The ruling said Defend Colorado Now touts the possibility of reducing taxpayer expenditures by restricting illegal immigrants' access to services, as well as the goal of restricting access to services.
"Because we determine these purposes are unrelated, we conclude they comprise multiple subjects connected only by a broad and overarching theme," the ruling said.
In a dissent, Justices Nathan Coats and Nancy Rice expressed concern that the decision was influenced by the motives of the measure's proponents and by its potential effects. They said the court has inconsistently applied the single-subject requirement, giving justices "unfettered discretion to either approve or disapprove virtually any popularly initiated ballot measure at will."
"The susceptibility of any group motivation or objective to being thinly sliced is limited only by the ingenuity (and desire) of the court doing the slicing," the dissenters said. "And according to the majority's logic, each such `purpose' apparently constitutes a `subject' of the initiative."
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