Update: N.D. Supreme Court rebuffs Conrad recall attemptBISMARCK — North Dakota's Constitution does not give voters the power to recall any member of the state's congressional delegation, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, blocking an attempt to force an early election for U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
By: By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — North Dakota's Constitution does not give voters the power to recall any member of the state's congressional delegation, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, blocking an attempt to force an early election for U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
A spokesman for the recall effort, Joe Wells, of Fargo, said supporters now intend to circulate an initiative petition that would give voters explicit authority to recall North Dakota's U.S. senators and the state's single U.S. House member.
A petition for an initiated constitutional amendment would need signatures from almost 27,000 North Dakota voters to qualify for the statewide ballot. Recalling Conrad, who is up for re-election in 2012, would be a much tougher job, requiring almost 79,000 signatures.
“It won't be a problem to switch gears, and try and get the state constitution changed,” Wells said Tuesday. “That's the strategy we intend to pursue.” A petition drive should begin soon, he said.
Conservative recall backers say they are unhappy with the Democratic senator's voting record, including his support for federal health care overhaul legislation backed by President Barack Obama. A spokesman for Conrad said he had no comment. Conrad, a former state tax commissioner, has been a North Dakota senator for 24 years.
The Supreme Court's unanimous ruling, written by Justice Dale Sandstrom, supports an earlier legal opinion by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem that concluded the state constitution did not allow recalls of members of Congress.
The right of recall gives a state's voters power to force state and local officials to stand for election early if public demand for a vote is strong enough.
The North Dakota Constitution's original recall provision, which was approved by voters in March 1920, said members of Congress were subject to recall. However, the language affecting U.S. senators and House members was removed in 1978.
“Absent from (the constitution) is any reference to North Dakota's congressional officials, including a United States senator,” Sandstrom wrote. “Under the plain language of this section, elected officials in state and county positions are subject to recall. Congressional officials, however, are not mentioned.”
In New Jersey, a group of tea party activists have been pressing to recall Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. The New Jersey Supreme Court blocked the effort last month, ruling the U.S. Constitution does not allow a U.S. senator or House member to be recalled.
Sandstrom said the North Dakota court did not have to decide that question because the North Dakota Constitution does not permit a congressional recall.
The dispute began last May when Wells delivered a recall petition to Secretary of State Al Jaeger for his approval before Wells began circulating it. Wells is the founder of Recall ND, a nonprofit group that is pushing for the right to recall federal officials.
Jaeger asked Stenehjem for a legal opinion on the issue, and the attorney general replied by saying the state constitution did not allow for recalls of any member of North Dakota's congressional delegation.
Recall ND then asked the Supreme Court to order Jaeger to approve the recall petition for circulation. In their opinion Tuesday, the justices refused to do so, and concluded Jaeger was justified.
“Recall ND's petition does not meet the constitutional requirements of a valid recall petition,” the Supreme Court's ruling says. “The secretary of state exercised appropriate and reasonable authority by denying Recall ND's petition before it was circulated to the public.”