Federal appeals court issues stay in Amendment 71 'Raise the Bar' lawsuit

DENVER – A panel of federal appeals court judges stayed a lower court judge’s order that blocked a portion of Colorado’s Amendment 71, which made changing the state’s constitution more difficult.

The ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means that the March ruling by a U.S. District Court of Colorado judge that struck down the portion of the “raise the bar” amendment has been set aside pending the outcome of an appeal by the Colorado Secretary of State.

In late March, District Court Judge William J. Martinez struck down the portion of the amendment that required people hoping to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot to get signatures from at least 2 percent of the total number of registered voters in each of the state’s 35 Senate districts.

Martinez wrote in his ruling that that section of the amendment violated the “one person, one vote” principle. But his ruling upheld the portion of the amendment that upped the threshold that constitutional ballot initiatives would need to get in order to pass from 50 percent of the popular vote to 55 percent.

The Secretary of State’s Office appealed and asked both Martinez and the appeals court to stay the district court’s decision through the November election because of ongoing ballot initiatives – something Martinez declined to do.

Plaintiffs in the original lawsuit were pleased with the lower court’s decision, but the campaign manager of the “Raise the Bar” campaign called Martinez’s decision “wildly off the mark.”

“This is a victory that restores the will of Colorado voters who approved Amendment 71 by a wide margin,” said Lee White, co-chair of the Raise The Bar campaign, said in a statement Thursday. “We look forward to the full arguments in this case and feel very confident Amendment 71 will be permanently upheld in full.”

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said in a statement to Denver7 he was happy the judge granted the stay during the appeal process.

“The people of Colorado spoke on this issue when they passed Amendment 71 overwhelmingly in 60 of the 64 counties,” Williams said. “Today the court supported the vote of the people.”

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman also praised the court's decision.

“Amendment 71 ensures that people all over Colorado, and especially voters in our rural communities outside the front range, have a say in whether to amend our State’s most important document," she said in a statement. "Today’s ruling is an important victory, and I’ll keep fighting to protect Amendment 71 and Colorado’s constitution.”

Former Colorado governors Bill Ritter and Bill Owens filed amicus briefs in the case urging the court to uphold the amendment in full.

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