On December 21, a U.S. District Court will hold a trial in Bernbeck v Gale, 4:10-cv-3001. This is the case that challenges Nebraska’s ban on out-of-state petition circulators, and also challenges the state’s ban on paying circulators on a per-signature basis. The trial is not expected to last beyond one day. Most of the facts are not in dispute. Plaintiffs have already submitted a great deal of evidence showing that these two restrictions substantially increase the cost of getting initiatives on the ballot. This particular case concerns an initiative in one small city, Stanton.
A somewhat similar case is pending in Nebraska called Citizens in Charge v Gale, but it is not as far along in the process. That case contains an issue that is not involved in the Bernbeck case. The Citizens in Charge case challenges the ban on out-of-state circulators, but it also challenges a Nebraska law that sets up a county distribution requirement for statewide non-presidential independent candidates. The U.S. Supreme Court back in 1969 ruled that statewide petitions cannot have county distribution requirements. Nebraska already had one such county-distribution requirement declared unconstitutional in 1984. But the 2007 session of the legislature didn’t seem to remember that, and passed another one.