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Federal Judge Rules Against Oregon Senators Seeking Reelection After Boycotting Session

A federal judge has dismissed the plea made by Oregon Republican state senators who opted for a legislative boycott, seeking permission to appear on the ballot post their term expiration.

U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken Issues Dismissal

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The ruling came from U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken on Wednesday, marking a significant development in a legal battle initiated by State Sens. Dennis Linthicum, Brian Boquist, and Cedric Hayden.

Senators Challenge Disqualification

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The trio, who were plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, contested their disqualification from running for reelection under Measure 113—a voter-approved constitutional amendment. Passed with a substantial majority the previous year, Measure 113 instituted a bar preventing legislators from seeking reelection if they accumulated 10 or more unexcused absences.

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Measure 113 Bars Legislators with 10 or More Unexcused Absences

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The contentious legislative walkout happened over a record six-week period during the 2023 legislative session, with each of the three senators having more than 10 absences.

The boycott was over bills related to abortion, transgender health care, and gun regulation.

In September, Linthicum and Boquist faced disqualification from the 2024 ballot, as indicated in court filings, while Hayden’s term is set to conclude in January 2027.

Senators Argue First Amendment Protects Walkout as Political Protest

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The senators argued that their walkout constituted a form of political protest protected by the First Amendment.

They contended that their disqualification amounted to a punitive measure against their exercise of constitutional rights.

Their attorneys said, “The Senators were punished solely for exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Judge Aiken’s Response To Senators Pleas

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However, Judge Aiken’s response was that , “These walkouts were not simply protests — they were an exercise of the Senator Plaintiffs’ official power and were meant to deprive the legislature of the power to conduct business.”

In Oregon, both the Senate and House of Representatives require two-thirds of their members for a quorum to conduct business.

She added that the subsequent disqualification was a direct consequence of Measure 113 functioning as intended by Oregon voters.

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Walkouts as a Form of Protest

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Over recent years, Republican lawmakers have resorted to walkouts as a form of protest against Democratic policies.

In Oregon, this strategy has helped them deny a quorum and helped to stall bills.

Justice Departments Attorneys Counter the Senator’s Claims

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Attorneys from Oregon’s justice department, representing Griffin-Valade and Wagner, countered the senators’ claims. Their contention was that the First Amendment did not shield legislators who refused to attend legislative floor sessions.

They emphasized the legal impact of a senator’s absence under Oregon law, highlighting that without the required two-thirds attendance for a quorum, the Senate could not legislate.

 

Federal Decision Precedes Oregon Supreme Court’s Measure 113 Challenge

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The federal court’s decision arrived a day before the Oregon Supreme Court took up a separate challenge to Measure 113. In oral arguments before the state’s highest court in Salem, a lawyer representing a different group of Republican state senators argued that ambiguity in the constitutional amendment’s wording allowed legislators whose terms concluded in January to run in 2024.

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Secretary of State’s Clarification Rule Sparks Dispute in Separate Lawsuit

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Secretary of State Griffin-Valade, also a defendant in the latter lawsuit, had previously asserted that boycotting senators were disqualified from seeking reelection in 2024. She directed her office’s elections division to implement an administrative rule, clarifying the stance and aligning it with the intent of voters who approved the measure in the previous year.

March 2024 Filing Deadline Looms as Legal Battle Intensifies

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With the March 2024 filing deadline for candidates approaching, all involved parties in the legal battle sought clarity on the issue, underscoring the urgency of resolving the matter before the upcoming election cycle.

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