PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Three Oregon Republican senators filed a lawsuit on Monday against Senate President Rob Wagner and Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade — claiming their constitutional rights were violated as they racked up unexcused absences during a walkout earlier in 2023.
The lawsuit was filed by Republican senators Dennis Linthicum, Brian Boquist, and Cedric Hayden, as first reported by The Oregonian.
Additional plaintiffs include Republican voters Rejeana Jackson, John Swanson, and John Large, who each live in the districts represented by the plaintiff senators. The Klamath County Republican Central Committee, Polk County Republican Central Committee, and the Lane County Republican Central Committee are also listed as plaintiffs in the suit.
The plaintiff senators argue their First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated as they accrued at least 10 unexcused absences during the GOP-led Senate walkout over Democrats’ “unreadable” bills.
Those unexcused absences bar them from re-election under voter-approved Measure 113.
Passed in 2022, Measure 113 states “failure to attend, without permission or excuse, ten or more legislative floor sessions called to transact business during a regular or special legislative session shall be deemed disorderly behavior and shall disqualify the member from holding office as a Senator or Representative for the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed,” according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.
While the plaintiffs say they did not have permission for their absences, they argue that they had an excuse for the missed legislative sessions as they exercised their First Amendment rights through protest, the lawsuit claims.
The plaintiffs argue that the senators were “punished for exercising their First Amendment rights and their punishment snowballed into additional constitutional violations,” according to court documents.
Senators Linthicum and Boquist have already been disqualified from the 2024 ballot, the suit claims, noting, Sen. Hayden will be disqualified from the 2026 ballot.
The lawsuit claims that Senate President Rob Wagner is the only member who can determine if a lawmaker has permission to be absent from session and argue “there are no laws or rules putting legislators on notice of what category of absence is ‘unexcused.’”
The plaintiffs allege that before the GOP-led walkout, “Wagner excused every absence,” including absences without a mandatory written request. They also claim Wagner excused himself from a March 7 session and did not provide the written request.
The suit furthers that Wagner “dramatically” changed how he enforced the absence rules when the walkout began.
“During this time, Wagner began using ‘unexcused’ absences to punish Senator Plaintiffs for walking out – even when their absence request forms explicitly stated they were exercising their First Amendment rights to protest and to exercise their religion,” the lawsuit claims.
The plaintiffs further claim that on May 5, “Wagner retroactively ‘unexcused’ absence requests from those who participated in the walkout – requests he had ‘exused’ before they walked out.”
“The definition of an ‘unexcused absence’ remains arbitrary and unknowable – and the punishment for accumulating ten unexcused absences is severe,” the suit argues.
They also allege their right to practice religion under the First Amendment was violated.
In one case, the plaintiffs said Wagner denied Sen. Hayden’s request for absence for religious services on Saturdays when Wagner attempted to hold Saturday sessions during the walkout on May 6 and June 24.
The plaintiffs pointed to a similar case on June 25 when Wagner denied Boquist’s request to attend mass on a documented Holy Day, the suit alleges.
They also say their First Amendment right to freedom of association was violated, stating, “disqualifying minority party members for denying the majority party a quorum unfairly excludes a certain class of candidates from the electoral process.” They go on to argue that “disqualification from the ballot severely burdens Voter Plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to vote and Party Plaintiffs’ right of association and right to elect like-minded candidates.”
The plaintiffs further that their Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated under the Due Process Clause, preventing the government from abusing its power.
In late August, the suit says, Secretary Griffin-Valade stated that senators Boquist and Linthicum were disqualified from re-election in 2024 under Measure 113, and claimed, “logically, Senator Hayden will be disqualified from candidacy in the 2026 election without this court’s intervention.”
In a statement to KOIN 6 News, Sen. Boquist said “Democrat Senate Presidents have gotten in the habit of ignoring both the state and federal constitution. Maybe if they followed the constitution, they would get bipartisan support. Instead, they hide behind the Democrat Attorney General who uses tax dollars to promote political positions.”
This lawsuit comes after the Oregon Supreme Court agreed to hear a lawsuit from five Republican lawmakers challenging Measure 113. Oral arguments for that case are set for Dec. 14.
Oregon Secretary of State Griffin-Valade’s office said they look forward to a speedy resolution and for clarity on enforcing Measure 113.
KOIN 6 News has also reached out to Senate President Wagner, Sen. Linthicum, and Sen. Hayden and have not heard back.