From Eggers v. Evnen, in an opinion by Judge Raymond Gruender, joined by Judge David Stras (some citations omitted):
The Nebraska constitution gives voters the power directly to enact statutes and constitutional amendments placed on the general-election ballot. Neb. Const. art. III, § 2. To qualify for placement on the ballot, a proposed statute or constitutional amendment must satisfy two conditions. First, at least seven percent (in the case of a proposed statute) or ten percent (in the case of a proposed constitutional amendment) of registered voters must sign a ballot petition. Id. Second, the signatories must “be so distributed as to include five percent of the registered voters of each of two-fifths of the counties of the state.”
This case concerns the second requirement (the “signature distribution requirement”). On September 2, 2021, [Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana] initiated petitions to place proposals to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes on the November 2022 ballot. Eggers is a paid contractor, volunteer, and sponsor of NMM. On May 16, 2022, Eggers and NMM sued the Nebraska Secretary of State in federal court. As relevant here, the plaintiffs claimed that the signature distribution requirement violated Eggers’s rights under the Equal Protection Clause because it devalued her signature relative to the signatures of citizens in less populous counties. The plaintiffs sought a declaration that the signature distribution requirement is unconstitutional on its face and an injunction against its enforcement. . . .
The plaintiffs’ contention is foreclosed by circuit precedent. No right can qualify as “fundamental” for purposes of equal-protection analysis unless it is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. And we have repeatedly stated that the right to place initiatives on the state ballot “is not a right guaranteed by the United States Constitution, but is a right created by state law.” [string citation, including,] cf. John Doe No. 1 v. Reed, 561 U.S. 186, 212 (2010) (Sotomayor, J., concurring) (“[Initiatives and referenda] are not compelled by the Federal Constitution. It is instead up to the people of each State . . . to decide whether and how to permit legislation by popular action. States enjoy considerable leeway . . . to specify the requirements for obtaining ballot access . . . .” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Contra Idaho Coal. United for Bears v. Cenarrusa, 342 F.3d 1073, 1077 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2003). In fact, we have applied this principle to the very provision at issue here, distinguishing the “right to vote in an election of political representatives,” which we recognized is “fundamental,” from the right burdened by the signature distribution requirement “to participate in [placing] initiatives and referenda” on the ballot, which we held is “state-created” and thus “nonfundamental.”
Judge Jane Kelly dissented:
The district court relied on Moore v. Ogilvie, 394 U.S. 814 (1969), for the premise that access to the ballot is a right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At issue in Moore was an Illinois statute requiring independent candidates to provide an “aggregate total of 25,000 signatures” including “the signatures of 200 qualified voters from each of at least 50 counties” in order to qualify for the ballot. The Court held that because the requirement “discriminates against the residents of the populous counties of the State in favor of rural sections” it “lacks the equality to which the exercise of political rights is entitled under the Fourteenth Amendment.” . . .
The plaintiffs have persuasively argued that Nebraska’s signature distribution requirement may restrain the fundamental right to vote, thus triggering heightened scrutiny review. And the Secretary’s arguments in favor of the signature distribution requirement do not survive strict scrutiny. “[T]he States are required to insure that each person’s vote counts as much, insofar as it [i]s practicable, as any other person’s.” Hadley v. Junior Coll. Dist. of Metro. Kan. City, 397 U.S. 50, 54 (1970). Nebraska’s requirements discriminate against voters in more populous counties in precisely the same manner as the Illinois state law struck down in Moore, a violation of the one person, one vote principle.
The Secretary claims, and the court accepts, that there should be a distinction between the right to vote for a political representative and the right to vote on an initiative, the latter right granted only by the states and thus not guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. But the right addressed in Moore included the right to vote for presidential electors, a right not guaranteed by the Federal Constitution but instead granted by the states. See Moore, 394 U.S. at 815; Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 104 (2000) (“The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States.”). This distinction, therefore, cannot be dispositive. See Bush, 531 U.S. at 104-05 (“Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another.”); see also San Antonio Indep. Sch. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 35 n. 78 (recognizing that “the right to vote, per se, is not a constitutionally protected right,” but is “shorthand” for “the protected right, implicit in our constitutional system, to participate in state elections on an equal basis with other qualified voters whenever the State has adopted an elective process for determining who will represent any segment of the State’s population”). In any event, the Supreme Court has not expressly limited the “right to vote” in the way the court does today.