California’s fall ballot shrank late Monday afternoon when the state Supreme Court blocked Proposition 49, an advisory measure that sought to take the electorate’s pulse on a flashpoint issue in the national debate over money in politics.

In a 5-1 ruling, the justices 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.

While the main ruling offers no real reason for the decision, a lengthy concurring opinion written by 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 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.

The plaintiff in the case, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, made virtually the same argument in its court filings. Some critics of Prop 49 went even further, arguing that the measure was really a ploy to boost Democratic turnout in November by offering voters a chance to sound off on an issue that stirs passion among the party faithful.

Prop 49 supporters, though, countered that it was a valid measure. They argued it was, in fact, appropriate for voters to express their opinion — via an advisory measure — on the issue of whether the nation’s high court unfairly aided corporate political muscle in federal elections, through its ruling four years ago.

“It is unbelievable, in fact unbearable, that the Court would find that unlimited ‘money speech’ by artificial persons and corporations is the order of the day while actual speech by actual voters is to be outlawed,” said Michele Sutter, chair of the Yes on 49 committee, in an emailed statement.

Prop 49 was placed on the ballot on party-line votes in the Senate and Assembly earlier this summer. Its removal means the fall ballot now stands at six propositions, one of the shortest ballots in state history.

‘Citizens United’ Measure Removed From California’s Fall Ballot 1 October,2014John Myers

  • Gene Silvers

    All ballot initiatives are stupid anyway. I’m not fond of having every idiot around making laws. And not fond of them being distracted from giving their full attention to voting for good-enough lawmakers.

    • Kevin Schmidt

      So you are in favor of only wealthy elite idiots making the laws?

      Seriously, if we switched to direct democracy, I can’t imagine the people doing any worse than our present system that only represents big corporations and the extremely wealthy.

  • Angel Perea

    THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH: Our great State Supreme Court used a narrow short sighted judgment in reaching this decision on this timely and critical issue affecting our democratic form of govt! As a native Californian and voter, I am deeply disappointed and troubled that THE PEOPLE of California are now prevented from voicing their free speech “advisory” opinion on legislatively approved ballot measure!

  • Dave

    So the peoples freedom of speech to have this put on the ballot is squashed….but corporations can spew all the free speech that they want.
    They really want a revolution….don’t they?

    • Jim C

      That about sums it up and there’re getting the modern version of the brown shirts armed and ready to quash any rebellion .

    • cactuspie

      Look at all the articles on the militarization of police departments. There’s your answer. The slippery slope is a distant blur in the rear view mirror.

  • Chris Herz

    Can’t be cutting off the flow of the mothers’ milk into politics.

  • Shawna R. Nixon

    Do what I did. Contact your local representatives, and tell them that you would have voted “Yes” to amending the constitution to limit money in politics.

  • Judy Frankel

    This is not the end of the fight. Just because we don’t have a ballot advisory measure (which is a symbolic vote anyway; it doesn’t further any specific California legislation) doesn’t mean that California won’t go to Washington demanding an Article V convention. We’ve already established that we are one of the states that supports an amendment to the Constitution overturning Citizens United. We just need 34 states, total, to get our Article V convention.


John Myers

John Myers is Senior Editor of KQED’s new California Politics and Government Desk.  A veteran of almost two decades of political coverage, he was KQED’s longest serving  statehouse bureau chief and recently was political editor for Sacramento’s ABC affiliate, News10 (KXTV). John was moderator of the only 2014 gubernatorial debate, and  was named by The Washington Post to two “Best Of” lists: the 2015 list of top state politics reporters and 2014’s list of America’s most influential statehouse reporters.

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