Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tenth Circuit Affirms District Court’s Preliminary Injunction against Oklahoma State Election Board

The Tenth Circuit unanimously concluded that the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma did not abuse its discretion in granting a preliminary injunction against the Oklahoma State Election Board to prevent the adoption of a constitutional amendment. The so-called “Save Our State Amendment” would have prohibited Oklahoma state courts from considering Sharia and international law.

By singling out Sharia law, the federal appellate court held that the constitutional amendment likely would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by discriminating against Islam and by making “explicit and deliberate distinctions between different religious organizations.” The court rejected the state’s argument that there was a compelling interest in banning Sharia and international law from its court system, explaining that the state could not “identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve.” The state had admitted that “they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.”

In disagreeing with the state’s contention that the constitutional rights of voters outweighed the plaintiff’s, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the plaintiff’s federal constitutional rights outweighed an unconstitutional law which the voters enacted. The court discussed standing in Establishment Clause cases and found that the plaintiff had standing to challenge the Save Our State Amendment because the amendment “expressly condemns his religion and exposes him and other Muslims in Oklahoma to disfavored treatment.” “The harm alleged by [the plaintiff] stems from a constitutional directive of exclusion and disfavored treatment of a particular religious legal tradition.”

The Save Our State Amendment would also ban the application and consideration of international law in Oklahoma state courts. “International law is part of U.S. law,” explained Lynsay Gott, Acting Executive Director of Human Rights USA. “The Constitution expressly recognizes treaty law as the law of the land. We are bound by customary international law.” Ms. Gott cautioned that “U.S. jurisprudence also strongly influences the development of jurisprudence in other countries and international jurisprudence. Removing the U.S. from international law dialogue would threaten to take away our voice in the rest of the world.”

View the opinion here. More information can be found here.

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