Background: Voters had approved an initiative to prohibit lawmaker walkouts.
Oregon is one of a few states that prohibit state legislators from convening an official session unless two-thirds of lawmakers are present. Republicans in recent years have used that requirement to their advantage, walking off the job in order to stall bills on climate policy, taxes and abortion.
In a state that once prided itself on bipartisan collaboration, voters altered the State Constitution in 2022 to ban such absenteeism. Under the new rules, lawmakers who have 10 unexcused absences during a legislative session are barred from re-election.
Still, 10 lawmakers, including Tim Knopp, the Senate minority leader, repeatedly boycotted legislative work last year to stall legislation on abortion, transgender issues, drug policy and guns. The walkouts lasted weeks, delaying action on hundreds of bills.
The lawmakers involved in the boycotts included nine of the Senate’s 12 Republicans and an independent who was a former Republican.
Some of the senators challenged the new rules in court. Before the State Supreme Court, they contended that the new restrictions allowed senators to serve one more term after their current term expired. But the justices disagreed, ruling that the secretary of state had been correct in preventing them from running even in the next election.
Six of the lawmakers will be left off this year’s ballot, although two of them have already signaled their plans to retire. Four others will be barred from the ballot when they would have been up for re-election in 2026.
The secretary of state, LaVonne Griffin-Valade, a Democrat, applauded the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision.
“I’ve said from the beginning my intention was to support the will of the voters,” she said in a statement. “It was clear to me that voters intended for legislators with a certain number of absences in a legislative session to be immediately disqualified from seeking re-election.”
What Happens Next: Will this year’s session be able to proceed?
The ruling came down just days before Oregon’s legislative session was set to begin in Salem.
Mr. Knopp has suggested that even a ruling against the Republican lawmakers would leave them with a certain amount of sway in this year’s session. Lawmakers who cannot run for re-election, he told reporters this week, would have no reason to show up unless they are offered incentives — raising the specter of another de facto boycott.
In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Knopp said he disagreed with the court’s ruling.
“But more importantly, we are deeply disturbed by the chilling impact this decision will have to crush dissent,” he said.
Democrats have said that their top priorities for the upcoming session include homelessness, housing, reducing crime and strengthening schools. They have been moving to partially roll back the state’s drug decriminalization plan, a change that Republicans have been wanting.
Why It Matters: Republicans have been losing power.
Oregon has long had a rural-urban divide in its politics, but for many years both political parties held a measure of power, and opponents often worked together in a spirit of collaboration known as the “Oregon Way.”
In recent years, Democrats have continued to gain more control, aided by growth in liberal cities such as Portland. No Republicans currently hold statewide elected office, and a Republican has not won a governor’s race in four decades. At the State Capitol, there are wide Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers.