The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Wednesday rejected a request from a group of medical marijuana supporters to block a provision in Nebraska’s constitution that establishes a signature requirement for ballot initiatives. The group, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM), is a registered ballot campaign committee in Nebraska that initiated petitions to put proposals to legalize medical and recreational marijuana on Nebraska’s November 2022 ballots.
Under the Nebraska constitution, voters can enact statutes or constitutional amendments that are on the general election ballot, but the proposed statute or amendment must meet two conditions to qualify. First, a ballot petition must be signed by at least seven percent of registered voters for proposed statutes or ten percent for proposed constitutional amendments. Second, the number of signatures must equal at least five percent of “each of two-fifths of the counties of the state.”
NMM challenged the second requirement as contrary to the Equal Protection Clause, claiming that the signature distribution requirement devalues a citizen’s signature relative to those of citizens in less populous counties. NMM asked a federal court to declare the requirement unconstitutional and to issue an injunction against its enforcement.
A district court granted a preliminary injunction, but the Eighth Circuit reversed. The court held that Nebraska “has a legitimate interest in limiting ballot initiatives to those with a reasonable chance of success so that voters’ attention is not distracted by initiatives without a reasonable chance of success.” The court explained that the factors for issuing a preliminary function “clearly weigh” in favor of Nebraska’s Secretary of State, and NMM did not show that the signature distribution requirement would not survive rational basis review.
The Eighth Circuit also held that “the right to place initiatives on the state ballot” is a right created by state law, not guaranteed under the US Constitution, so the right is not fundamental for equal protection purposes.