August 9, 2006

Rhode Island District Court: Casino Question Will Stay on the Ballot, Despite a "Substantial Likelihood" That It's Unconstitutional

Carroll Andrew Morse

Federal District Court Judge William Smith has denied a motion to stop the constitutional amendment from being placed on the November ballot that, if passed, will allow the state to name a single, private casino operator without a competitive bidding process. The short version of the ruling in Ajax and Johnston v. The Narragansett Indian Tribe and Harrah’s West Warwick Investment Company (2006) is that, Fourteenth Amendment problems with the casino amendment notwithstanding, Judge Smith doesn’t want to rule on something that might never be passed by the voters anyway...

After reviewing the excellent memoranda filed by the parties, listening to the arguments of counsel, and reviewing the authorities cited, this Court finds that while Plaintiffs and the Attorney General have raised serious constitutional questions regarding the proposed constitutional amendment, the dispute is simply not yet ripe for adjudication....

This Court appreciates the gravity of Plaintiffs’ claims, particularly their allegation that the proposed amendment violates the Fourteenth Amendment because it amounts to an unlawful racial or ethnic preference. However, the Court is not prepared to say without doubt that the proposed amendment is “patently” unconstitutional....nor is this case of such an “exceptional” nature as to warrant intervention before the election has yet come to pass....This Court may never be called upon to rule on the constitutionality of the proposed amendment: the electorate may vote it down in November. Courts should not wade into constitutionally torrid waters unless doing so is unavoidable. That is not the case here.

The opinion then goes to a second level, where Judge Smith determines that Ajax Gaming and the Town of Johnston haven’t met the legal standard for injunctive relief, which requires showing than an injunction is necessary to prevent irreparable harm. Again, however, Judge Smith is clear that failure to meet the standard for injunctive relief is a matter entirely separate from the casino amendment's constitutionality....
Furthermore, even if the matter were deemed ripe enough for review, Plaintiffs have not satisfied their burden for preliminary injunctive relief....While it is probably true that Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits for at least one claim — perhaps even a substantial likelihood of success — this Court is not persuaded of the potential for irreparable harm to Plaintiffs if the referendum question appears on the ballot.

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After YEARS of 'let the people decide', when this finally gets voted down, what's the liklihood that Tim the Crook and Chief Moneybags won't just try again next year with another scheme to trick the voters into lining their pockets?

Posted by: Greg at August 9, 2006 10:12 AM

The more voters learn about this constitutional change, the more they are going to dislike it. I have no doubt that this will go down in flames. Good government groups should use this as a prime example to show how irresponsible and beholden our General Assembly is. Could this be the wake up call?

Posted by: mike at August 9, 2006 12:18 PM

You people just don't get it. You are making it into an issue that it is not. Rest assured, if the people vote this thing up, it is not being overturned by the courts. Lets argue on the merits of a casino - and let the lawyers argue the other side in court. This issue is about jobs, money and property tax relief. If anyone can name me a project or development that will create the sort of economic benefit that a casino will, I'd love to hear about it. We need to focus on getting money BACK from CT, and we need to realize that this casino will be a safety net when MA apporves slot machines at their racetracks. THAT is the real threat to LP and NG - not a WW destination casino that will compete with CT casinos.

Posted by: Wade at August 10, 2006 10:31 AM