ND Supreme Court: Recall of Conrad not allowed under state Constitution

Kent Conrad

FARGO – In an opinion published today, the North Dakota Supreme Court rejected a request by a group of citizens who sought to recall Sen. Kent Conrad.

Conrad had been the target of an attempted recall after his vote in favor of health care reform earlier this year – but the politically motivated effort sparked a deeper debate about whether it was even possible under North Dakota law.

Acting on behalf of Fargo resident Joe Wells (who spearheaded the group ultimately called “RecallND“), Fargo legislator Blair Thoreson asked for Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s opinion this spring on whether the recall was allowed.

The legal question lied in whether a section in the North Dakota Constitution includes federal elected officials among those who can be subjected to a recall.

The North Dakota Constitution states that any elected official of the state is subject to a recall. Before 1978, that provision included congressional seats, but the reference was taken out when the state constitution was amended.

Stenehjem determined the law doesn’t allow for a recall of U.S. senators, like Conrad. Citing the opinion, North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger subsequently rejected RecallND’s petition seeking to recall Conrad. Jaeger said he didn’t have the authority to approve the petition since the North Dakota Constitution offered no mechanism to recall federal officials elected in the state.

In July, RecallND sought a final answer from the North Dakota Supreme Court by suing Jaeger, in the hopes of forcing him to approve their petition to go forward with the recall.

The North Dakota Supreme Court today backed Stenehjem’s opinion by agreeing the North Dakota Constitution does not explicitly include federal elected officials as among those who are subject to a recall. But, the court didn’t address the greater matter on whether a U.S. senator can be recalled at all – the justices simply said such federal officials just can’t be recalled here.

If Jaeger had approved the petition, the members of RecallND would have needed to gather 78,923 signatures in order to put the recall measure on a statewide ballot. Conrad’s current term ends in 2013, and he has not yet said if he’ll seek re-election in 2012.

RecallND spokesman Joe Wells told the Associated Press that recall supporters now will start a campaign to change North Dakota’s Constitution to make it clear that voters have the right to recall any member of the state’s congressional delegation. Wells said the effort should be underway soon.