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Published December 23 2010

Forum editorial: Court says ‘no’ to silly recall stunt

The North Dakota Supreme Court was forced to waste its valuable time with an obviously foolish attempt to recall Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. The court ruled unanimously Tuesday that the state constitution does not allow recalls of members of Congress. The right of recall only gives voters powers to force state and local elected officials to stand for early election if public demand for a vote is strong enough.

A nonprofit group calling itself Recall ND is pushing for the right to recall federal officials. They are led by Joe Wells of Fargo, and apparently are so determined to remove Conrad from office that their reading of state and federal constitutional law is skewed by their partisanship. Wells and his cadre of scholars should have gotten the message that their recall petition was more stunt than substance when Secretary of State Al Jaeger said their petition was not valid, after Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem issued an opinion that said the state constitution does not provide for recall of federal office holders.

The state high court concurred with Jaeger and Stenehjem in clear language. Writing for the court, Justice Dale Sandstrom said: “Under the plain language of this section, elected officials in state and county positions are subject to recall. Congressional officials, however, are not mentioned.”

Plain language, the justice said. Apparently it was not plain enough for the myopic petitioners.

Not deterred by the court ruling, members of the slow-learners club intend to press ahead with a petition to change the state constitution to allow federal recall. They would need 27,000 signatures to get an amendment on the ballot. That’s a high bar, especially since most North Dakotans are more thoughtful than Recall ND. But even in the unlikely circumstance a constitutional amendment passes, it would take 79,000 signatures to recall Conrad, who, by the way, is up for re-election in 2012. North Dakotans have always been able to exercise their “recall” right on Election Day.

Finally, a related campaign to oust a U.S. senator in New Jersey was blocked by that state’s high court, which ruled the U.S. Constitution does not allow a U.S. senator or House member to be recalled. It would appear, therefore, that a federal recall provision in a state constitution would be invalidated by the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on federal recalls.

Which suggests Recall ND ought to redirect its efforts to amending the U.S. Constitution. Of course, by the time that process is completed – if it ever gets off the ground – Conrad will be retired and the deep thinkers at Recall ND will be drooling in their tapioca at an old folks’ home.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.