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State’s chief justice:

PIERRE|Recently I emailed Chief Justice David Gilbertson seeking comment about Constitutional Amendment W on the Nov. 6 ballot.

I understood the South Dakota Supreme Court rarely makes any statement on a matter before it reaches the justices.

In this instance, the organization opposing Amendment W argued in a news release: "There is no meaningful legal review possible."

The chief justice’s reply steered clear.

“The Judicial Canons say it is not appropriate for a judge or court to comment on an issue that could potentially come before it in a contested legal action,” he wrote.

He continued, “It appears to me as you frame the question, it could come before the Supreme Court either for interpretation or a constitutional challenge. Therefore it is not proper for me to answer the question you pose.”

I asked whether there was any other way I could pose the question so he could answer.

“Not really,” he replied, “because no matter how you phrase it, I cannot answer a question concerning an issue that could come before the South Dakota Supreme Court. Every court in the country follows the same rule.

“Were I to answer your question and it later came before the Supreme Court,” he continued, “I would have to disqualify myself from the case for taking a public position on an issue prior to it reaching the Court.”

State law required Attorney General Marty Jackley to explain the purposes of W.

“This constitutional amendment lowers campaign contribution amounts to candidates and political parties. It prohibits contributions to candidates or political parties by labor unions and corporations. Candidates and elected officials are prohibited from using campaign contributions for personal use.

“The amendment expands the scope of activities requiring people to register as lobbyists, and places additional restrictions on lobbyists.

“The amendment replaces the government accountability board recently created by the Legislature. The new board is granted broad power, including the power to investigate, adopt rules, issue advisory opinions, and conduct audits. It may impose sanctions, including fines, on any elected or appointed official, judge, or State or local government employee. The amendment annually appropriates State funds to be solely administered by the board.

“The amendment limits the number of votes necessary for approval of any initiative or referendum to a simple majority. It requires the Legislature to make specific factual findings when enacting laws that are not subject to referral. If the Legislature wants to change the initiative or referendum process, or a law passed by initiative, it must submit the change to the voters.

“This multiple-section amendment makes other additions to the Constitution. It will likely be challenged on constitutional grounds.”

You’re left to wonder: Should you dare?

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Bob Mercer is the state capitol correspondent for the Rapid City Journal.

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