High Court’s Mixed Messages
JUNE 13, 2006
Colorado’s Supreme Court contradicted itself this week by ruling against a measure it had favored a few years ago prohibiting illegal immigrants from receiving taxpayer-funded public services.
The 4-2 ruling seemed quite strange considering a virtually identical measure – restricting non-emergency services provided by state and local governments to citizens and legal immigrants – was unanimously approved by the same court in 2004. The proposal never made the 2004 ballot because sponsors couldn’t gather enough signatures in time.
One editorial said that the Colorado Supreme Court embarrassed itself by letting its political predilections determine an important decision and Littleton Congressman Tom Tancredo called it an “arrogant usurpation of citizens’ constitutional prerogatives.”
The court said that the proposed measure violated a provision of the Colorado Constitution that requires ballot initiatives to concern only a single subject, so the justices basically found an extra subject that was evidently missed two years ago.
The first is decreasing taxpayer expenditures on behalf of illegal immigrants. The second, denying them access to certain administrative services. One of the proposal’s main backers, former Democratic governor Dick Lamm, called the court’s sudden change “outrageous judicial activism” and “raw, naked politics.”
The group behind the initiative, Defend Colorado Now, estimates that services to illegal immigrants cost Colorado taxpayers $1 billion a year. The group describes the measure as a pro-legal-immigrant bi-partisan citizens’ initiative that would amend the state’s constitution to ensure that publicly funded services not required by federal law are restricted to go only to those lawfully in Colorado.
Opponents from the pro illegal immigrant group Keep Colorado Safe say the ballot measure was misleading and voters would have been confused. The group’s leaders say that the initiative would jeopardize the state’s fiscal welfare and the health of thousands of immigrants.
While that group rejoiced at the court’s decision, the Volokh Conspiracy called it troubling and misguided. Slapstick Politics wrote that the Colorado Supreme Court applies some pretty tortured and convoluted logic in ruling against the proposed amendment.
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