Amendment 71 Ruled Unconstitutional

Federal district court ruling states the amendment violates the Equal Protection Clause

A federal district court ruling last month deemed part of Colorado’s “Raise the Bar” amendment unconstitutional. Amendment 71, which was passed by a 55 percent margin in 2016, added a supermajority vote and geographic requirements that make it more difficult to amend the state constitution.

The suit was filed in April against Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams. Plaintiffs argued Amendment 71 violated the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which stipulates a one-person, one-vote rule. Plaintiffs include two individuals and two organizations, the Coalition for Colorado Universal Health Care and ColoradoCare Yes, that supported and tried to pass Amendment 69 in 2016. That amendment would have created a health care payment system to finance universal health care in the state. It proposed an additional 10 percent payroll tax from employers and employees to finance the program. The amendment failed by a nearly 79 percent margin.

Federal district Judge William Martinez issued the decision in response to the state’s motion to dismiss and denied it, effectively converting it to a summary judgment issue because there were no factual disputes.

Though the plaintiffs argued that repeal should mean repeal of the entire amendment because of the Colorado Constitution’s single-subject rule, the ruling kept the supermajority component intact. Martinez wrote that no case law was cited that established that the rule “has any bearing whatsoever on severability.”

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the March 5, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.