Groups defend ballot initiative process used to advance Rights of Nature lawmaking in Ohio


October 8, 2020

Elizabeth Dunne
Legal Strategist, Earth Law Center

Patricia Walker
Principal of Walker & Jocke, representing coalition of Ohio groups

Greg Coleridge
Outreach Director, Move to Amend Coalition

Tish O’Dell
Ohio Community Organizer, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

Cincinnati, OH: Amicus briefs have been filed in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Plaintiffs-Appellants in Beiersdorfer v. La Rose, et al. (No. 20-3557). The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of Ohio’s ballot access scheme for ballot initiatives. Plaintiffs from seven Ohio counties, representing Rights of Nature and corporate control ballot measures, sued the Ohio Secretary of State and Boards of Election officials in trial court for repeatedly keeping binding citizen-proposed laws and charters off the ballot despite satisfying procedural requirements, such as the requisite number of signatures.

Amicus briefs, filed by people or groups with a strong interest in a case, have been filed by:

Earth Law Center (ELC), representing thousands of supporters and hundreds of organizational partners. ELC works with grassroots organizations, local communities, Indigenous groups, and lawmakers to change anthropocentric worldviews and legal frameworks to recognize the rights of nature. Their brief reads:

“ELC has a strong interest in this case because it raises important questions about direct democracy, a tool often used to advocate for environmental protection, eco-centric laws, and rights of nature. Its outcome implicates the ability of people and communities to advocate for progressive laws that ensure clean and sustainable environments.”

A coalition of 20 Ohio groups, representing 18,750 members (full list of groups below). Their brief reads:

“The organizations represent rural, suburban and urban Ohio and surrounding states. They are experts in grassroots democracy. The protection of the fundamental right to bring peaceful change to their government through legislation created by the people brings them all together. The positive, peaceful change is through direct legislation, that includes initiatives, referendums, charter proposals and charter amendments.”

Move to Amend, a national coalition of over 480,000 individuals and 200 organizations seeking to create real democracy through constitutional reform. Their brief reads:

“Public accountability of elected officials demands a legitimately democratic ballot initiative process.”

Pro bono attorney for ELC Kevin Rivera said, “Ohio’s ballot access scheme imposes a severe burden on petitioners in violation of the First Amendment by allowing review of a proposed initiative’s content before it is even enacted. We hope Earth Law Center’s brief sheds light on the need for a fair initiative process.”

“The initiative process amplifies the people’s voice by giving them a direct role in lawmaking. Many of the plaintiffs in the Beiersdorfer case advanced initiatives with provisions recognizing the inherent rights of nature, notably the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. ELC submits its amicus brief in solidarity with front line visionaries advancing the legal revolution necessary to reverse destructive patterns by writing human’s interconnectedness with the natural world into law,” said Elizabeth Dunne, ELC’s Legal Strategist.

The 20 Ohio groups are: Carroll Concerned Citizens, Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing, Cleveland Lead Safe Network, Cleveland Solar Cooperative, Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism, Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, Death Penalty Action, Environmental Campus Organization Eco, Fact Ohio, Freshwater Accountability Project, Medina County Indivisible, Medina County Together, Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, Ovec-Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Single Payer Action Network of Ohio, Students for Energy Justice, Unitarian Universalist Justice Ohio, and West Shore Fact – Faith Communities Together For a Sustainable Future.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund provided support for Plaintiffs in this lawsuit and their ballot initiative drives.

For more information and Plaintiff statements:

Amicus briefs are available in the court docket, or upon request.

About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is building a movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights – building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international level.


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