In July, Caleb Proulx, a third-year law student at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, filed as a petitioner for extraordinary writ before the Utah Supreme Court arguing that the state’s definition of “legislation” was unduly restrictive and that legislation should include non-binding resolutions.
Proulx’s journey to the state’s highest court began in February, when he became involved with the local Move to Amend initiative. According to its website, Move to Amend is a coalition of organizations dedicated to repealing Citizens United, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that has been credited with giving rise to the so-called super PACS and allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts in elections. Proulx’s interest in this issue was ignited by his conclusion that “that our democracy has been tilted in favor of large moneyed interests. The ground rules of the game ought to be fair, and the ground rules of the game get decided through the democratic and representative process. Unfortunately, that process has been monkey-wrenched by oversize influence in elections as corporations and moneyed interests donate huge amounts of money to their chosen candidates,” he said.
Locally, Move to Amend supporters were able to gather some 7100 signatures in support of its initiative. But Salt Lake City Attorney Ed Rutan nonetheless refused to put the Move to Amend initiative on the ballot because it didn’t conform with Utah law. Rutan explained that the applicable state law says initiatives are legislation and must create law, which is something the Move to Amend initiative did not do. Instead, it asks voters to approve or disapprove statements such as “Only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights” and “Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting free speech.”
When it came time to file the petition with the Utah Supreme Court, the local Move to Amend group explored hiring a lawyer but soon discovered it lacked sufficient funds. Enter Proulx. “Because the Initiative and Referendum statute allows any voter to file the petition, I decided I’d be the one to do it,” he said. “How many times does a law student get the chance to appear before the state supreme court? I was quite nervous during the actual oral arguments, as anyone could probably tell. However, I had taken Troy Booher’s appellate practice class, so I had done oral arguments once before. In fact, [the law firm] Zimmerman Jones and Booher kindly allowed me several hours the day before in their offices for a moot, and [Michael Zimmerman], the former chief justice, as well as Troy and several associates from their firm, listened to my argument.”
At press time, Proulx had just discovered that the Utah Supreme Court ruled against him and he is now waiting for the release of the written opinion. However, he remains optimistic that change is in the air. “The local Move to Amend group continues to get new volunteers and converts weekly, and during our petition drive it was difficult to manage the volunteer force,” he says. “The group has succeeded in making the issue of corporate personhood an issue in the city, and there are now new opportunities for working with elected officials in pushing future initiatives having to do with campaign finance reform on a city level.”
To read a Salt Lake Tribune article about the case, click here.