On Monday, the California Supreme Court blocked an “advisory” ballot measure that Democrats had hoped to include on the November ballot, with a view to increasing turnout among apathetic voters. The non-binding measure, Proposition 49, asked voters if they felt the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling should be reversed.
The Sacramento Bee notes that at the time the state legislature approved the measure, Governor Jerry Brown had released a statement condemning the measure while tacitly allowing it to proceed by not vetoing it. Brown’s statement read, “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,” he had said.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, calling the proposition an “illegitimate exercise of legislative power,” fought the measure in the courts, and the state’s Supreme Court ruled 5-1 in favor of barring the measure from the ballot. The Association’s president, Jon Coupal, reacted:, “This is a very significant win. The court is stepping up and doing what it needs to do to protect the integrity of the ballot.”
The Citizens United Ruling stated that corporations and labor unions are permitted to make unlimited donations to campaigns, as such contributions are protected free speech. As Jon Fleischman wrote at Breitbart News, “This is an issue that has the granola-eating, hardcore lefties seething. To these folks, they see it as fundamentally unfair that just because someone has more money than someone else, they should be able to spend at will to seek to influence voters on the issues at hand. If pressed, many of these folks would tell you that they would just a soon see all political campaigns in American publicly financed with our tax dollars. “
Derek Cressman, a spokesman for the “Money Out Voters In” campaign, told the Bee, “It’s pretty chilling when the judicial branch cancels an election where the people are likely to vote against the judicial branch. It’s what we’ve come to expect from oligarchs in Russia, but not what we’d expect in our republic.”
The Bee quotes the opinion of Associate Justice Goodwin Liu, writing for the majority, who said that a ballot measure “must take a distinctive form: it must take the form of law. Our Constitution makes no provision for advisory questions because such polling of the electorate by the Legislature is in tension with the basic purpose of representative as opposed to direct democracy.” He added that the California state constitution does not allow a “mix and match” ballot combining binding laws and advisory measures. He also stated: “If the Legislature wants to commission Gallup to do a poll on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) 558 U.S. 310 (Citizens United), I see no problem with that. But there is a difference between doing that and doing what the Legislature has done here.”
The proposition was based on Senate Bill 1272, sponsored by State Sen. Ted Lieu, who said the court’s ruling was “bizarre” and asserted it “silenced California voters from having their voices heard. It was a very activist order.” Lieu is counting on Democratic turnout in his race against Republican Elan Carr for the 33rd district congressional seat.