Maine Supreme Judicial Court hears arguments about the role of ballot referenda in overturning state administrative agency decisions

On August 5, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in a case about whether voters may use the ballot referendum process to reverse actions taken by a state administrative agency. At issue is a ballot referendum set to appear on the November 2020 ballot that would overturn a state agency decision giving a power company permission to build a high-voltage power line.

The lawyer for Avangrid Networks, which owns the power company, argued that the “integrity of the Maine Constitution and [its] constitutional form of government” depended on the court stopping the ballot referendum. He said that it was the duty of the court to stop proponents of the ballot referendum from attempting to use the referendum process in a way that is not supported by the state constitution.

Opponents of the referendum argue that the ballot measure violates the separation of powers provision found in Article III of the Maine Constitution. They’ve argued that the measure is an attempt to use a ballot referendum to exercise executive authority by reversing an agency order, and judicial authority by overturning a related court decision.

The lawyer representing supporters of the referendum argued that the court should wait to rule on the constitutionality of the referendum until after the November 2020 election. He argued that the referendum, which would direct the behavior of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, was a legitimate use of legislative authority. He added that however the court decides, voters should be allowed to vote for or against the measure in the election.

The lawyer for the secretary of state of Maine stated that the secretary agreed, along with the challengers, that the referendum goes beyond the power of citizens to legislate under the Maine Constitution. She also stated that the court should decide the issue before the November election.

To learn more about the Maine ballot measure, see here:
Additional reading:
Link to the oral argument: