California Supreme Court Blocks Corporate Power Resolution from Ballot

August 20, 2014

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The "Overturn Citizens United Act" -- a California ballot measure seeking public input on whether the US Congress should pass an amendment to allow regulation of campaign spending and ending corporate personhood -- will not appear on the ballot this November after all, despite approval from the State Legislature.

In a 5-1 ruling Monday, the California Supreme Court ordered Secretary of State Debra Bowen to pull Prop 49 out of election preparations until the legal case is resolved. With the looming deadline for those materials to be printed, the decision effectively removes the measure altogether from the Nov. 4 statewide ballot.

The Court was responding to a lawsuit brought by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, claiming that advisory measures such as Prop 49 are not allowed in California.

Justice Goodwin Liu offers a resounding rebuttal to legislators who wanted voters to weigh in on the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. “Our [state] constitution,” wrote Liu, “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.”

In short, said Liu, California’s legislators have no defined power to place advisory measures on the ballot, only those that give the voters the power to authorize government action. The ruling was signed by Liu and Justices Marvin Baxter; Kathryn Werdegar; Chin; and Carol Corrigan.

"The lawsuit by the Taxpayers Association goes to show that supporters of big money in politics are starting to be afraid of the growing movement to amend the Constitution," stated Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, National Director of Move to Amend. "Every single time these resolutions have been on the ballot they have passed. It doesn't matter whether at the municipal or state level, in conservative and liberal communities. The public is speaking out and the movement is getting more visible and organized -- some people want to put a stop to it."

The lone vote against removing Prop 49 from the ballot came from Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. She wrote that while she agreed the issue was murky, but strongly criticized the Court majority for blocking the measure from November’s ballot.

“By the majority’s action,” Cantil-Sakauye writes of the decision by her colleagues, “the Legislature will be deprived of knowing in a timely manner where the voters stand on the issue, perhaps influencing what further steps the Legislature will take” on the issue.

Prop 49 was placed on the ballot by votes in the Senate and Assembly earlier this summer.

"It is alarming to think that in California, our Legislature doesn't have the authority to find out what the public thinks on an issue," stated Sopoci-Belknap. "The tactic of advisory resolutions has been used to express public sentiment in response to other issues where the Federal Government is out of touch with the public will, as is the case with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision."

This month Move to Amend launched their "Pledge to Amend" campaign, an effort to get candidates for office to pledge to support the amendment movement should they win their election.