Sparks City Council Vote May Go to US Supreme Court

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Sparks City Council Vote May Go to US Supreme Court


US Supreme Court

The vote in question earned quite a bit of media attention.

Sparks Councilman Mike Carrigan voted on the Lazy 8 casino project, even though his close friend and campaign manager Carlos Vasquez was a consultant for the developer.

The Nevada Ethics Commission decided that Carrigan should have abstained from voting, but that his violation was not willful.

Sparks took the matter to court and eventually Nevada's supreme court overturned the decision.

Why? Caren Jenkins the director of the ethics commission says it's a complicated answer.

To keep elected officials from being influenced by family and business partners the law spells out four distinct relationships that should cause elected officials to recuse themselves.

Jenkins: "And those four are very explicit and then there's this fifth catchall category that says or other.' "

Other relationships of a similar nature, to be more precise.

Jenkins says this "catchall" category is what the commission used to make its decision that Carrigan voted when he shouldn't have.

But the State Supreme court views the law as unconstitutionally broad in the way it prevents officials from expressing themselves.

And that's the issue that could go to the US Supreme Court. It's not about ethics anymore- it's about how broad laws can be.

Generally speaking, laws are supposed to be narrowly tailored to accomplish their goals.

But from the commission's standpoint, the catchall phrase gives them some latitude to keep officials on the level.

Jenkins: "The commission on ethics is looking for some clarification about whether the letter of the law or the spirit of the law should be applied. Certainly the intention of having this catchall phrase is to allow the ethics commission the flexibility to apply it to real life circumstances."

Well, the commission may get a very concrete answer now.

It's appealing to the highest court in the nation, thanks to some interest (and free legal help) from the University of Virginia Law School- which has a law clinic that searches for cases to take to the Supreme Court.

Jenkins: "And they contacted us and said wow- this is something the United States Supreme Court might wish to hear because Nevada's court has said X, another state's court may have said Y, and the federal courts may have said Z."

They expect the court to decide whether to even hear the case next summer or fall.

If the court does take it up, it could force all 50 states to makes sure their laws can stand up to a single standard of broadness.