Oregon high court says 10 GOP state senators who staged long walkout can’t run for reelection

The boycott last year lasted six full weeks, the longest ever in the history of the state. It paralyzed legislative sessions and stalled hundreds of bills.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday that ten Republican state senators, who walked out for an unprecedented amount of time last year in order to block bills on abortion rights, transgender healthcare and gun rights, cannot be re-elected.

The court upheld the Secretary of State’s decision disqualifying the senators under a measure approved by voters to stop such boycotts. Voters passed Measure 113 in 2022 to amend the state constitution, which bars lawmakers from being reelected if they miss more than 10 meetings without an excuse.

The boycott last year lasted six full weeks, the longest ever in the history of the state. It paralyzed legislative sessions and stalled hundreds of bills.

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Five senators sued the Secretary of State over her decision. Tim Knopp and Daniel Bonham. Suzanne Weber Dennis Linthicum Lynn Findley. These 10 senators were among those who had more than 10 absences.

Senators issued a statement opposing the ruling.

“We clearly disagree with the Supreme Court ruling. We are also deeply concerned by the chilling effect this decision is likely to have on dissent,” said Knopp.

In December, during oral arguments in front of the Oregon Supreme Court, attorneys representing the senators as well as the state argued over the grammar and syntactic structure of the new language added to the Oregon constitution after Measures 113 passed by the voters.

The amendment states that a member of parliament is not permitted to run for the next term after their current term has ended. The senators argued the amendment meant that they could seek a second term since the senator’s tenure ends in January, while elections take place the November before. The senators claim that the penalty does not take effect immediately but only after they have served another term.

Both sides fought over the small differences between the wording on the ballots that voters actually filled out, and the text included in the voter’s pamphlet.

The ballot stated that a vote for the measure would disqualify lawmakers with 10 or more absences without an excuse from holding office in the “term after current term of office.” However, the text of this measure in the pamphlet included the word “election.” The pamphlet’s text was added to the constitution.

The state argued in favor of the measure that voters who voted “yes” in support intended to bar legislators with such a high number of absences from running for office after their current term ends.

The lawsuit was brought by the senators against LaVonne Griffin Valade, Secretary of State. She had said in August that boycotting senators would be disqualified to run for re-election. She instructed her office’s election division to implement a rule based on the boycotting senators.

Before the March 2024 deadline for candidates to file their candidacy in this year’s elections, all parties had sought clarification on the issue.

The 2023 walkout paralyzed Parliament for weeks. It ended only after Republicans forced Democrats to make concessions on a comprehensive bill to expand access to abortion, transgender healthcare and another measure relating to the manufacture and transfer undetectable guns known as ghost weapons.

Oregon voters approved Measure 113 by a large margin after Republican walkouts at the Legislature in 2019 and 2020.