Appellate court strikes down OK residency law

Paul Jacob had plenty of reason to celebrate a unanimous appellate court ruling yesterday that struck down an Oklahoma residency requirement for participation in political campaigns.  The 3-0 decision declaring such laws unconstitutional knocks out the struts of a peculiar prosecution of Jacob and two others who face long prison sentences for the crime of assisting those collecting signatures for a taxpayer bill of rights referendum.  Eric Dondero has Jacob’s reaction to the ruling:

Just got word that the federal 10th Circuit struck down Oklahoma’s residency law 3-0! That’s the third federal circuit court this year to UNANIMOUSLY overturn residency laws as unconstitutional.

This is very good news. It puts another nail in the coffin of these residency bans that thwart the people’s right to petition, and it “should” mean that the outrageous prosecution of the Oklahoma-3 will come to an end.

As I’ve always contended, whether the residency law is struck down or not, we will be acquitted. We did not willfully violate any law in the course of the 2005 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights petition drive. However, the fact that this statute has now been invalidated should stop our persecution in its tracks.

Jacob notes that the case will likely get appealed to the Supreme Court, but that he expects to prevail there as well.  Dondero himself participated in a lawsuit to get the residency requirement thrown out.

For those unfamiliar with the case, Jacob explained it last year:

Unlike most initiative states, Oklahoma has a residency requirement allowing only Oklahoma residents to circulate a petition. But when the petition company checked with state officials to determine what constituted a resident, those officials said that a person could move to Oklahoma and immediately declare residency — and begin petitioning.

Just to be safe, since sometimes simple law can be made amazingly complicated, I asked for any relevant legal precedent. The ruling in a recent challenge to an Oklahoma petition to ban cock-fighting seemed clear: residency was determined by an individual’s intention to be a resident.

A number of petitioners moved to Oklahoma, declared residency, and proceeded to gather signatures on the various petitions. Ultimately, both the spending cap and the property rights measure garnered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Then, the various forces of big government that had worked so hard to block the vote, joined by a who’s who of corporate CEOs and the heads of energy companies and banks (can you say “daddy welfare”?), challenged the petition. And the Oklahoma Supreme Court came to their aid, providing a much different standard for residency than in the past. The judges now equated residency with a “permanent home.”

How permanent was “permanent”? One petition circulator, who moved to Oklahoma in September of 2005 and was still living there in July of the following year, was ruled not to be a resident.

Jacob’s case got even stranger than this.  Jacob and the other two defendants didn’t circulate the petitions themselves; they only consulted with the initiative’s leadership on petition circulation.  The state Attorney General charged them with a single count of conspiracy to break the residency-requirement law, but never charged anyone with actually breaking that law.  The AG never filed charges against any signature gatherer.  In other words, the state of Oklahoma wants to prosecute Jacob for conspiring to commit supposed crimes for which they cannot and/or will not prosecute the actual alleged criminals. It’s absurd.

Hopefully, this puts an end to the strange jeremiad of the state AG against the Oklahoma 3.  If it doesn’t, it will clearly demonstrate the political motives of the Democratic AG behind his pursuit of felony charges against tax activists for simply giving advice to people wanting to use direct democracy to keep government in check.