Kylie Oversen: Passing Measure 1 invites litigation, not certainty

As published in the Grand Forks Herald, 10/31/14

by Kylie Oversen, Grand Forks

For those undecided voters who have been following the debate surrounding Measure 1, there probably has been some understandable confusion. If I hadn’t been on the committee that heard this very resolution during the legislative session, I might have some second thoughts, too, about what Measure 1 is intended to accomplish and what it might actually accomplish.

Over the past few months, one letter-writer who supports Measure 1 said the measure “simply reaffirms and reinforces abortion laws that are already in effect.” Another letter stated that without the measure, “we are sending these interest groups an invitation to open the litigation floodgates and overturn our existing laws.”

Still others have said the measure was in response to a judge’s ruling on HB 1297 (2011) and SB 2305 (2013). And another said that a “constitutional amendment doesn’t govern me or you,” and that “Measure 1 doesn’t touch the authority you and I … have to make decisions about our lives.”

I’m not sure where these individuals learned constitutional law, but those statements seem to represent a basic misunderstanding of what constitutional law is. Of course constitutional amendments can govern citizens. For example, consider the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolishes slavery, no longer allowing individual citizens to own slaves. This might be a far-fetched comparison if the sponsor of Measure 1 hadn’t made the same comparison in her testimony to the Human Services Committee. Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, compared the rights that Measure 1 is intended to protect to the rights once denied to African Americans, American Indians and women.

It is inaccurate to say this measure was a direct response to a judicial ruling, as that decision was not announced until July 2013, months after SCR 4009 was passed. Further, considering the legislative record, it is disingenuous to say that this measure will not affect one single law or the residents of North Dakota.

While I can appreciate the conviction with which supporters are approaching this measure, I cannot agree with a statement that says with certainty that Measure 1 will or will not do any single thing. Law school has appropriately taught me to be a skeptic and has shown me that only one thing in the law is certain: that nothing in the law is certain.

This debate will not end at the polls. It will undoubtedly continue in our courts, costing taxpayers thousands in legal fees. I hope Herald readers will join me in voting No on Measure 1.

State Rep. Oversen, D-Grand Forks, is a student at the UND School of Law.