It’s déjà vu all over again. In a 6-3 ruling this week, the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the state’s constitutional ballot initiative process. This is not the first time MS’ highest court killed off direct democracy on a technicality, though the last time was a century ago.

In the second decade of the 20th century, the Mississippi legislature referred two direct democracy amendments to the people for adoption. In 1912, the referred measure was defeated at the polls, gaining only 35% of the popular vote. In 1914, though, Mississippi voters passed the measure with 69% of the vote, adding, at least nominally, the right of people to place statewide measures on the ballot. In 1922, the state’s Supreme Court voided the election. My article in the APSR with Dustin Fridkin looks at some of the factors that led to the legislative referral to the people of measures such as these.


The 1914 legislative referral gave considerable power to the citizens, at least in theory. Initiative petitions, for either constitutional amendments or statutes, required valid signatures from 7,500 qualified voters to qualify a statewide measure for the ballot. The Governor could not veto an initiative if approved by the electorate. An initial legal challenge, Howie v. Brantley (1917), the state Supreme Court upheld the initiative process (as well as the popular referendum). Several years later, after a group circulated a ballot initiative to reduce the $40,000 annual salary of the State Revenue Agent, Stokes V. Robertson, Robertson sued in state court, arguing that the 1914 referred measure placed on the ballot by the legislature was invalid for a technical reason, specifically, that it did not allow voters to to “vote for or against each amendment separately.” In 1922, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling and held that the state’s short-lived (and never actualized) initiative process was unconstitutional.