Judge Strikes Circumcision Ban From Ballot

Update 12:48 p.m. Bay City News wrap-up:

A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled today that a ballot measure that would criminalize male circumcision must be stricken from the city’s November ballot.

Anti-circumcision protester outside the hearing today. (Photo: Peter Jon Shuler/KQED)
The proposed ban would have punished people who circumcise a minor with a fine of up to $1,000 or up to a year in jail.

Judge Loretta Giorgi ruled today that the measure is pre-empted by a state law concerning medical procedures, and said the option of narrowing the proposal to only target circumcisions done for religious reasons would not work either since that would violate the free exercise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Before the start of this morning’s hearing, Giorgi said, “The issue for debate today is not the pros and cons of circumcision.”

The organizer of the ban campaign, Lloyd Schofield, has argued that male circumcision is akin to female circumcision practices that are already banned in the U.S. He collected thousands of signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

Michael Kinane, the attorney representing the ban’s supporters, continued that line of argument in today’s hearing, saying the measure is “very similar” to the U.S. ban on female circumcision since it limits it to necessary medical procedures rather than those done for religious purposes.

He said arguments against the ban “aren’t sufficient to justify the genital mutilation of infants,” and said San Francisco would be the right place to restrict the practice since it’s “one of the places that protects human rights more than anywhere in the world.”

Michael Jacobs, the attorney representing opponents of the ban, including the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League, said that the state law is clear that “no city or county … can prohibit a healing arts professional” from performing a medical procedure.

Kinane called into question whether most circumcisions are done for medical reasons.

At the end of the hearing, Giorgi said she took the arguments of the ban’s proponents to heart but said “the evidence did show this is an area pre-empted by state law.”

She said the city’s Department of Elections has to remove the measure from the ballot immediately. The city has until Sept. 1 to finalize the ballot.

After the hearing, Schofield said he is considering appealing the ruling.

“Everyone has freedom of expression, but you cannot have freedom of expression to harm another human being,” he said. “I disagree with that aspect of the ruling.”

“This issue is not ending,” he said, adding that he “will not stop until all men are protected” from circumcision.

Abby Michelson Porth of the Jewish Community Relations Council said she is “very pleased” with the judge’s ruling.

“Circumcision is something that’s been practiced for nearly 4,000 years,” she said.

She called it “a very integral part of our faith and tradition … and we didn’t want to see Mr. Schofield legislate away” the practice.

Deputy City Attorney Mollie Lee said the city will be complying with the clear guidelines the judge set about removing the measure from the ballot.

Earlier posts Update: The upshot of judge’s ruling, as tweeted by Peter Jon Shuler from the courtroom:

Lloyd Schofield, who put the proposed ban on the ballot, said he intends to appeal.

Click here for tweeted reports of the oral arguments.

Original post KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler is tweeting live from the courtroom of San Francisco Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi, where she is hearing oral arguments in the pre-election challenge to the circumcision ban that qualified for November’s ballot in the city.

Yesterday, Judge Giorgi issued a tentative ruling holding that the proposed ordinance is “expressly preempted,” as it “attempts to regulate a medical procedure. Moreover, it serves no legitimate purpose to allow a measure whose invalidity can be determined as a matter of law to remain on the ballot after such a ruling has been made.”

From the Chron today:

The ruling is tentative, and Giorgi is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter today at 9:30 a.m. But observers say it is very unlikely that she’ll change her mind considering the vehemence of her initial ruling.

Live tweeting from courtroom:

Photos of anti-circumcision protesters:

Last month, The California Report’s Rachael Myrow interviewed Lloyd Schofield, the San Francisco resident who put the proposition on the ballot, and Martin Nussbaum, an attorney specializing in First Amendment religious cases as a proponent of freedom of religion. Listen to those interviews here.

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Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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