Nevada Term Limit Cases Argued

By  | 

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A legislative lawyer urged the state Supreme Court on Monday to toss out term limits approved in 1996 by voters - but faced numerous questions from justices and challenges
from attorneys for Nevada's elections chief and for candidates trying to oust veteran incumbents.

With Nevada's Aug. 12 primary only four weeks away, the Supreme Court must act quickly on the thorny issue - but Chief Justice Mark Gibbons promised "a well-reasoned and correct" ruling rather than
a rush job, saying, "We cannot and should not take shortcuts" in the dispute.

Attorney Kevin Powers, representing the lawmakers' Legislative Counsel Bureau, argued that the term limits amendment to the Nevada
Constitution was "riddled with infirmities" and should be struck down as unconstitutional.

Powers argued that the term limits issue was approved by voters in 1994 but when it was submitted for a second required vote its wording was revised to exclude judges and that violated a requirement for consecutive votes on issues phrased "in the same manner."

Powers faced a flurry of questions, including queries from Justices Michael Cherry and Jim Hardesty who asked how voters were misled, why the consecutive votes couldn't be seen as meeting the "same manner" mandate, and why the Legislature waited so long to raise its challenge.

Powers was opposed by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, representing Secretary of State Ross Miller who triggered the term limits cases by saying more than 20 public officials can't seek re-election this year due to Nevada's 12-year limit on terms.

Masto said the wording differences in the 1994 and 1996 ballot questions didn't alter their "fundamental component" of a 12-year cap for elected officials. She also said that the Legislature's challenge at this point amounted to "an unreasonable delay."

The lawmakers' effort to cancel the limits also was challenged by attorney Dominic Gentile, representing Steve Sisolak who's running for a Clark County Commission seat and is trying to force longtime incumbent Commissioner Bruce Woodbury off the November ballot.

Gentile said it's clear that voters who approved the limits wanted to "put an end to the dynasty" of longtime incumbents, and the high court should rule in favor of the limits rather than wait another "umpteen years" to make a decision.

Attorney Georlen Spangler, representing Kevin Child who is running against Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said Powers' argument should be rejected because so many years have gone by since the final 1996 vote to approve the term limits.

Spangler added that the lawmakers waited until now, when term limits are on the verge of taking their full effect, because the issue was such "a political hot potato."

Besides the cases reviewed Monday by the Supreme Court, justices
also are weighing a decision in a separate case that could enable Buckley and other legislators to continue their re-election bids this year even though they appear to be at the 12-year limit.

The argument in support of the lawmakers elected or re-elected in 1996 is that their terms began the day after that election while the term limits amendment also approved that year didn't take effect until an official vote canvass a few weeks later.

Under that reasoning, the 2008 elections would be their last opportunity for a re-election bid.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)