Cohen et al. v. Brown

ACLU Challenges Petition to Grant “Paramount” Right of Life to Unborn

Supporters of Initiative Petition 30 (2010), which sought to establish the “paramount” rights of “every innocent life” including the “unborn,” failed to file the required number of signatures before the July 2, 2010, deadline passed, so it will not be on the November ballot.

The ACLU opposed IP 30 because it creates a new constitutional “right to life” and then would make other fundamental civil liberties protections in the Oregon Constitution subordinate to that new right.

Prior to the signature deadline, the ACLU challenged IP 30 in court because it improperly included multiple amendments to the Constitution. We prevailed at the trial level and the Secretary of State appealed. Oral argument before the Oregon Court of Appeals is set for September 28, 2010. The eventual ruling in the case would establish an important precedent interpreting the "separate vote” requirement of the Oregon Constitution.


On December 8, 2008, the ACLU filed a complaint on behalf of Joyce Cohen and Andrea Meyer, asserting that Initiative Petition 30, which seeks to amend the Oregon Constitution to provide for a “paramount” right of “every innocent human being to life,” including the “unborn,” violates Article XVII, section 1 of the Oregon Constitution.  Article XVII says that “[w]hen two or more amendments shall be submitted…to the voters of this state at the same election, they shall be so submitted that each amendment shall be voted on separately.”  The ACLU moved for summary judgment, claiming that the Initiative Petition contains two amendments: first, it creates a new right to life, and second, it makes that right paramount to all others in the Oregon Constitution.  The Secretary of State responded with her own request for summary judgment, claiming that the Initiative Petition contains only one amendment.  On June 23, 2009, the Marion County Court issued a letter opinion granting the ACLU’s motion for summary judgment and denying the motion of the Secretary of State.  However, the fight to protect Oregon’s Constitution from unconstitutional amendments is not over yet, as the Secretary of State has indicated that she will appeal.

Greg Chaimov and Alan Gallaway of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP are the ACLU cooperating attorneys on this case.