Monday, January 4, 2016

'Citizens United' advisory measure can go on ballot, California high court says

Maura DolanMaura Dolan    Contact Reporter

The California Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for the Legislature to place an advisory measure on the November ballot asking voters their views on campaign spending.

The court had previously blocked the measure after a conservative group challenged it, arguing lawmakers were not legally entitled to put advisory propositions before voters.


The proposition asks voters whether there should be a federal constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. FEC, which permitted unlimited corporate and union spending for federal candidates.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. had argued that advisory measures would clutter the ballot and could be used to shape voter turnout.

The court, in a 6-1 ruling written by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, said the state legislature has the right to consult voters about possible federal constitutional amendments.

"Long-standing historical practice among the states demonstrates a common understanding that legislatures may formally consult with and seek nonbinding input from their constituents on matters relevant to the federal constitutional amendment process," Werdegar wrote.

The court did not give the Legislature unbridled authority to place all sorts of advisory measures on the ballot.

The majority said there must be a nexus between the advisory measure and a potential action the Legislature may take.

Because state legislatures have a role in passing federal constitutional amendments, Proposition 49, the “Citizens United” measure, met that nexus, the court said.

“Legislators may solicit and consider the views of the people on fundamental matters pertaining to federal constitutional amendments,” Werdegar wrote.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, in a concurring opinion, said the ruling should not be interpreted as a broad limitation on the Legislature’s powers.

“Nothing in today's decision should be viewed as calling into question the validity of all types of statewide and local advisory ballot measures, even those completely unrelated to any proposed amendment to the federal Constitution,” the chief justice wrote.

Justice Ming W. Chin, in a dissent, argued the Legislature has no right to place advisory measures on the ballot.

“The Legislature should not be permitted to hijack the ballot to serve its own agenda,” Chin wrote.

The bill passed by the Legislature called for placing the “Citizens United” proposal on the 2014 ballot. The Legislature will have to pass another bill to get the measure on the November ballot, said Thomas W. Hiltachk, who represented the group opposing the advisory measure.

Hiltachk said the majority ruling was narrow and addressed only advisory measures involving federal constitutional amendments.

“Federal constitutional amendments are considered from time to time but pretty rarely,” he said. “If it is limited to that and it is rare, that is one thing. If the Legislature takes this and decides to run with it and go beyond the holding of the court, the problems we are concerned about will arise again and we will take them on again.”

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