The “Overturn Citizens United Act”, or Prop 49, will not appear on California’s ballot this November after all.
As we reported in some detail last month, the unusual “advisory measure” was placed on the ballot very recently by the California state legislature. It called for Congress to “propose an amendment…to the United States Constitution” to overturn the infamous Citizens United decision and its progeny, and “to make clear that the rights protected by the United States Constitution are the rights of natural persons only.”
But now, the state Supreme Court in California, dominated by 5 Republican appointees and 1 Democratic appointee, has intervened to remove the measure from this year’s general election ballot, as the Sacramento Bee reports tonight…
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The California Supreme Court on Monday effectively blocked a November advisory ballot measure on the merits of unlimited independent campaign spending, dashing some Democrats’ hopes that the measure would boost voter turnout in what could be an otherwise staid election.
Approved by the Legislature early last month and grudgingly allowed to go on the ballot by Gov. Jerry Brown, Proposition 49 would have asked California voters if Congress should overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling in 2010. The legislation’s passage followed Capitol protests that triggered dozens of arrests.
But in siding with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a 5-1 high court majority said it needs more time to consider whether the advisory measure can be placed on a California ballot.
The argument made by the rightwing Howard Jarvis group, and accepted by the state Supremes for now, is that the state Constitution does not allow for non-binding advisory questions on the ballot, but rather, only initiatives that will have the force of law if adopted by the electorate.
In her dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye —- an appointee of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger —- said that blocking Prop 29 was an “extraordinary step” by her colleagues, and, as SacBee’s Christopher Cadelago and Jim Miller report, that “the court should have let the measure stay on the fall ballot and considered its legalities afterward.”
Democratic state Sen. Ted Lieu, sponsor of Senate Bill 1272, which became Proposition 49 after it was adopted by the legislature and by Gov. Brown, called the state Supreme Court ruling “bizarre” and “very activist”, but said he was confident the measure would be on the ballot in 2016, if not 2014, according to the paper.
For his part, Brown had allowed the measure to become law last month, but without his signature. At the time, he explained his reasoning: “We should not make it a habit to clutter our ballots with nonbinding measures as citizens rightfully assume that their votes are meant to have legal effect. Nevertheless, given the Legislature’s commitment on this issue, even to the point of calling for an unprecedented Article V Constitutional Convention, I am willing to allow this question to be placed before the voters.”
UPDATE 8/12/2014: “Yes on Prop 49” proponents have created a petition calling on the CA Supremes to “Restore Prop 49 to the ballot.” In an email blast in support of the petition, the proponents note that they expect to prevail on the issue after a full hearing on the case in September, but that “that’s cold comfort if we are not on the November ballot. Justice delayed is justice denied, especially when it comes to elections.”
They also cite their amicus letter [PDF] sent to the court last Friday, arguing that CA and U.S. history are clear that instruction ballot measures are allowable. The letter concludes this way:
The federal courts have given ample opportunities for wealthy people to speak to our elected officials through hiring lobbyists and paying unlimited amounts for campaign advertisements. Ordinary citizens have no such opportunities to make their viewpoints heard and in fact many people believe their voices are diminished and drowned out by the comparatively louder voices of billionaires and corporate CEOs. Proposition 49 is a legitimate attempt by the California Legislature to provide their constituents with an avenue for being heard.
the only current means that Californians have to engage in what they view as a crucial public debate and make their collective will expressly known to their elected representatives is a legislative referral. The California Legislature was appropriately responsive to the wishes of their constituents to be heard on this issue and the Court should not interfere in the legislative process between California elected representatives and their constituents.