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Mosman ruling: Two tracks

Two topics are worth following in the wake of today’s federal court decision on the new Oregon domestic partnership law, a decision allowing it to go into effect more or less immediately.

It had been on hold (though scheduled for implementation January 2) because Federal Judge Michael Mosman had questions about the signatures gathered in an attempt to block the law. If enough valid signatures were properly gathered, the law would have been put on the November ballot as a referendum, to be voted up or down, and in the meantime would be suspended. The signatures gathered were approximated the necessary legal requirement, but after elections officials threw out those deemed invalid, the effort fell 96 signatures short. The referendum advocates went to court, and Mosman on December 28 ordered enjoined the law from taking effect until the signature issue was sorted out.

The sorting was what he did in court today, over about five hours. He concluded that the referendum backers indeed fell short, and the law should go into effect.

Two pieces of fallout.

One is that the political battle isn’t yet over, though once the law is actually in force and in effect it will be increasingly hard to overturn. The court issue may go on, and could be appealed, though appellate courts usually are loathe to overturn lower court rules on matters of fact – which was key here – as opposed to matters of law interpretation. Or there could be legal challenges on the substance, and you never know what might happen there, The law’s critics can try other avenues, such as an initiative, but odds of that succeeding aren’t good; if there’s not enough push to easily generate more than enough petition signatures, then odds of electoral success are less than even. Odds are that domestic partnerships are here to stay in Oregon.

The other aspect of this, a little troubling, is the variable and uneasily subjective standards that seem to be used in deciding the veracity of signatures. One report noted that “Mosman called out the SoS [secretary of state] for the not-very-well-articulated standards when it comes to signature verification.” That would be well worth a closer look, since the battle over signature verification is likely far from over, and may go on longer than the political contest over the substance.

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