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The Oklahoman

Oklahoman Editorial: Cockfighting challenges defer people's wishes
2002-12-03

Supporters of State Question 687, which banned cockfighting, seemed shocked that legal wrangling has kept the ban from going into effect statewide. It's no surprise to us. In a litigious society virtually every initiative and law is challenged if one shred of controversy is present.

Rather than setting aside the people's wishes, as some ban supporters claim, the challenges to SQ 687 are part of the process. Ban opponents were almost certain to continue the fight that they lost at the ballot box. The same was true of the right-to-work initiative, which passed handily last year; unions immediately went to court to overturn the people's wishes.

Monday, a Cherokee County district judge extended his order prohibiting enforcement of the cockfighting ban in three counties. Other challenges are extant elsewhere in the state, meaning that a statewide ban is far from reality.

This doesn't mean that the people's vote didn't count. It just means that a determined bunch of cockfighting supporters haven't given up, just as determined union bosses haven't given up on right to work.

It was time to ban cockfighting in Oklahoma. The people did the right thing in approving SQ 687. However, the tenacity of cockfighting supporters should not be underestimated. Also, ban proponents invited legal challenges by making the wording of 687 unnecessarily harsh and broad.

Add to that the political realities for sheriffs and judges in the counties most supportive of cockfighting and you have a guarantee that ban enforcement will be delayed. Eventually, though, legal cockfighting will cease in this state.

The people aren't alone in seeing their wishes deferred or challenged. Legislators also face legal challenges to much of what they do these days. Advocacy groups are ever ready to sue.

One such law is the Louisiana statute creating a "Choose Life" car tag. Louisiana is one of seven states, including Oklahoma, that enacted the law. Abortion advocates challenged the law in Louisiana. A successful challenge would have affected Oklahoma's law as well, but the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to block these specialty license plates.

Legal challenges also emerge when a state board oversteps its authority. That's what happened this year when the state Board of Health overruled the Legislature and passed strict anti-smoking rules. The people might support these rules if put to a public vote, and it would be difficult to mount a legal challenge if that happened.

However, the legal challenge that met these rules is on solid ground because the board should not have done what it did. Only the Legislature or the people have the authority to pass such sweeping changes. The board's arrogance will cost taxpayers scarce resources to litigate the issue.

Sometimes the challenges to initiatives passed by the people are made without the involvement of lawyers. Special interest groups are steadily beating the drum to overturn the state's legislative term-limits law passed in 1990 and the tax- limiting SQ 640 passed in 1992.

Some of the same folks in an uproar about the legal challenges to SQ 687 are marching against the term limits law and SQ 640 and strangely silent on the challenges to the right-to- work initiative. Yet all four questions were brought before voters. All four passed. All four laws should go unchallenged.

But that's not how it works today. The process allows for post-election challenges. It's not inconceivable that the term- limits law itself will be challenged when it goes into full effect two years from now.

As a wise man once said, it ain't over until it's over. As long as there's a lawyer left standing and a plaintiff with judicial standing, even the most popular laws and initiatives will go from the ballot box to the witness box.