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Merrill Cook is asking the Utah Supreme Court to overturn a lower court's ruling that the Legislature didn't overstep its authority by changing signature-gathering requirements to put his employee-verification initiative on the ballot.

The former Utah congressman filed for an expedited hearing Wednesday with the hopes he can still get his tough E-Verify initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.

He filed under a provision that requires the Utah Attorney General's Office to file a response within three days of being served rather than the normal 10 days allowed for a response, according to Utah State Courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer.

Cook said he thought the case could be heard as early as next week, but Volmer said that while the court "tries to react quickly to something that is time sensitive," it is not obligated by statute to expedite hearings.

"I'm the eternal optimist and don't take defeat and just quit," Cook said. "I still think we're on the right path and have pointed out some important flaws in the decision, and I think the Supreme Court is very likely to hear our case — and very soon."

Last week, Utah 3rd District Judge Randall Skanchy ruled Cook's ballot initiative group Citizens Aligned to Secure Utah's Prosperity didn't make a compelling case that the Legislature's new requirements were burdensome or restricted free speech.

Skanchy heard the case after it was booted out of the Utah Supreme Court in July after the justices ruled Cook should have made the arguments in district court first.

The proposed ballot initiative dubbed "Lawful Employment Ordinance" seeks to require employers in Utah to register with and use E-Verify to curb the hiring of illegal immigrants by imposing tough sanctions that include the revocation of business licenses for non-compliance.

It mirrors Arizona's E-Verify law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Cook's group currently has 31,000 signatures, but under the new law adopted by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in 2011, that's about 6,000 signatures short. The law, SB165, changed the signature requirements by tying the number needed to the voter turnout for president rather than governor. It also changed the time frame for collecting signatures — reducing it from three years to 316 days.

Cook argued in his filing that Skanchy's ruling separated the time restrictions and number of signatures needed when he instead should have considered the issues in combination, and the new law restricts free speech because "core political speech is at risk for a discriminated-against group of voters who are petition initiative sponsors, signers, signature gatherers and citizens who want a chance to vote on the initiative at the general election ballot."

Twitter: @davemontero

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