The people of California were denied a vote in 2014 on Proposition 49, The Overturn Citizens United Act. The question posed by the ballot measure was whether a constitutional amendment is necessary in order to restore the people’s right to regulate money in our elections and make clear that that rights enumerated in the US Constitution are for human beings and not for corporate entities.
This is a conversation that America must have and we’d have gotten it going here in California in 2014 if not for the wrongful interference by the California Supreme Court.
In a 5-1 temporary ruling and in response to a petition from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California’s high court ordered then-Secretary of State Debra Bowen to remove Prop 49 from the November 2014 ballot.
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Only Chief Justice Tani Cantil- Sakayue cautioned her colleagues against taking this “extraordinary step” that would lead to, among the other concerns she cited, “disenfranchising voters.”
By January 2016, when the Court issued its 6 to 1 ruling that Proposition 49 was always legitimate, the 2014 election was long past. Instead of placing the Prop 49 on the 2016 ballot as the legislature had filed to request, the Court told the California legislature that they would have to pass a new bill.
That is what the California Legislature is doing now. And, so far they aren’t wasting any time about it either. SB 254 had its first Assembly committee hearing on April 27, 2016. On May 12, 2016, the full Assembly, in a bipartisan vote, passed the bill and sent it to the California Senate. That’s lightning speed.
There’s more motivation behind the California Legislature’s drive to pass the “new” Overturn Citizens United Act than belief in the opportunity SB 254 presents and concern for the voters (though both those components are present for many legislators.)
When the California Supreme Court inserted itself into the Legislature’s function in an unprecedented way, discovered they were spectacularly wrong and then, instead of trying to make things right or do justice, told the Legislature that they needed to do it again when only the Court’s error prevented this ballot measure from moving forward in 2014, the Legislature wasn’t happy. One Capitol staffer told me it was “like the Court poked a stick in the Legislature’s eye.”
Senator Ben Allen, the lead author on SB 254, said in Assembly committee hearing: “[I]t would set an unacceptable precedent if we didn’t stick to our guns.”
Senator Allen is right. There’s a separation of powers issue here that should concern us as much as it concerns the California Legislature.
Judicial overreach leads back to the substance of SB 254 and the question it poses around what to do in response to US Supreme Court rulings that are rewriting the Constitution and encroaching in unprecedented ways on the functions of the other two branches of government.
America needs to have this conversation. The California Assembly has taken a meaningful step towards sticking up not only for themselves, but also for us, the disenfranchised voters of California.