The Oregon Supreme Court rendered a decision on Thursday that has significant implications for 10 Republican state senators who engaged in an unprecedented walkout last year, causing a prolonged delay in the passage of bills related to abortion, transgender health care, and gun rights.
The court ruled that these senators cannot seek reelection, affirming the secretary of state’s decision to disqualify them from the ballot.
The basis for this decision rests on Measure 113, a voter-approved measure from 2022 that amended the state constitution to prevent lawmakers with more than 10 unexcused absences from running for reelection.
Last year’s walkout, lasting six weeks, marked the lengthiest in Oregon’s history and had severe consequences, bringing the legislative session to a standstill and obstructing the progress of numerous bills.
In response to the secretary of state’s decision, five senators – Tim Knopp, Daniel Bonham, Suzanne Weber, Dennis Linthicum, and Lynn Findley – filed a lawsuit challenging their disqualification.
The senators expressed their disagreement with the Supreme Court’s ruling and raised concerns about its potential chilling effect on dissent.
Knopp, the Republican minority leader in the chamber, emphasized the disagreement with the decision but also underscored the broader implications it might have on stifling opposing voices.
During oral arguments in December, attorneys for both the senators and the state delved into the language of the constitutional amendment resulting from Measure 113.
The senators contended that the amendment allowed them to seek another term, given the specific wording stating that a legislator is disqualified “for the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.” They argued that the penalty takes effect only after they have served another term.
The dispute also revolved around slight differences in wording between the actual ballot and the voters’ pamphlet, with the latter ultimately being added to the state constitution. The state’s argument centered on voters intending to disqualify legislators with 10 or more unexcused absences from running after completing their current term.
The senators filed their lawsuit against Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade, who, in August of the previous year, declared the boycotting senators ineligible for reelection.
She instructed her office’s elections division to enact an administrative rule reflecting her stance. All parties sought clarity on the matter before the March 2024 filing deadline for candidates in the upcoming election.
The 2023 walkout by Republicans significantly disrupted the legislative process and concluded after Democrats made concessions on important bills related to abortion, transgender health care, and undetectable firearms.
Measure 113 gained substantial voter support in response to previous Republican walkouts in 2019, 2020, and 2021, reflecting a widespread desire for measures to prevent future disruptions in the legislative process.