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High court hears term limits case

Oct 24, 2012 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

Wyoming's term limits law should be scrubbed because it deprives Secretary of State Max Maxfield of his right to seek a third term, his lawyer told the state Supreme Court on Wednesday in Cheyenne

But state Attorney General Greg Phillips countered that Maxfield, who filed suit challenging the term limits law last year as a private citizen, doesn't have standing to challenge the law because he hasn't said whether he would seek a third term in the first place.

Chief Justice Marilyn S. Kite said at the close of arguments that the court would issue a written decision on the case later.

Brad Cave, Maxfield's lawyer, hammered on the point that the Supreme Court in 2004 rejected the portion of the state law that set term limits for state legislators.

In a ruling that didn't address term limits for the secretary of state's post or the state's other four statewide elected positions, the court ruled in 2004 that because the Wyoming Constitution sets requirements for state office, they may only be changed through amendment, and not by enacting state laws.

"Mr. Maxfield asks the court to invalidate the remaining portion of Wyoming's term limits law," Cave said. He said the law affects Maxfield every day, preventing him from starting to campaign for re-election. His current term runs through 2014.

Cave said the law amounts to a restriction on Maxfield's constitutional rights. "The right to be a candidate is a right that this court has found to be fundamental," he said.

Phillips argued that Maxfield's case failed to give the court anything substantial to rule on. He said that so long as Maxfield hasn't committed to running for a third term, he can't show any genuine right that's harmed by the law. "It's future, and theoretical," he said.

Justice Barton Voigt asked Phillips whether the existing law would prevent Maxfield from running. Phillips responded that Maxfield could tell people that he intends to run and that he intends to challenge the law.

"It would be odd to say we have an issue of great public importance when in the end, Mr. Maxfield may decide not to run, or may decide to run for something else," Phillips said.

Phillips also said Maxfield doesn't have standing to challenge the legal provision that limits governors to two consecutive terms because that provision is separate in state law from the provision affecting secretaries of state.

Phillips said that if the court's earlier ruling striking down term limits for legislators still stands, then his arguments in favor of retaining term limits for statewide elected officials will fail. However, he said, "Multi-term elected state officials, we need to worry the least about them of any group, in terms of protecting their civil rights."

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