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BK Blog Post
Posted by Jeffrey Clements.
Jeffrey Clements is a cofounder and general counsel of Free Speech for People, a national, nonpartisan campaign to oppose corporate personhood and pass the People’s Rights Amendment.
San Francisco —Today, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether Californians have the right to vote on Proposition 49, a voter instruction measure calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. After the hearing, California community groups and organizers delivered more than 112,000 signatures in support of the Court restoring Proposition 49 to its rightful place, the ballot.
(Supporters from all across California—Long Beach to Sacramento—gathered outside the Court)
The case, brought forward by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association against the State, claims that the ballot is an illegitimate use of legislative power. We disagree.
At the beginning of this year, we filed an amicus brief with our partners—MOVI, California Clean Money Campaign, CALPIRG, Common Cause California and Courage Campaign—arguing that a provision in the California Constitution provides the people with the right to “instruct their representatives”, a theme common throughout today’s arguments.
Our brief explains that the history of this provision, and of the contemporaneous practice of the California Legislature, demonstrates that it was intended to allow questions like Proposition 49. This is important not only in California, but also in other states that have similar constitutional provisions. As the people express their will through the ballot, the growing support for a constitutional amendment will become impossible to ignore.
During this morning’s hearing, Fredric D. Woocher, the attorney representing the State Legislature, presented compelling arguments to the seven Supreme Court Justices, highlighting the long-established and important role that voter instruction ballot measures play in California’s democracy.
“The people have the right to instruct their representatives,” Woocher declared to a packed room. “That has been in the Constitution since 1849. This is an act in response to citizens themselves who have asked to be heard on this issue.”
Reacting to arguments from opposing counsel contending that the Legislature is legally limited in its ability to solicit input on critical issues from the people they represent, Justice Carol A. Corrigan remarked, “It is very challenging to say ‘we give plenary power to the legislature, but heaven forbid we ask the people what they think.’”
For over two years, a growing coalition of public interest non-profits, civic organizations, and community groups has worked to push this ballot forward. This morning, our allies—California Clean Money Campaign, California Common Cause, California Public Interest Research Group, Courage Campaign, Democracy for America, Money Out! People In!, and Money Out Voters In—delivered a petition with over 112,000 signatures urging the Court to restore Prop 49 and place the proposal before voters in 2016.
At a rally held outside the Supreme Court building just prior to the hearing, CA State Senator Bob Wieckowski, a longtime critic of Citizens United and its big money influence, stood with the people of California, expressing his unwavering support for Proposition 49, calling it a “critical voter instruction tool.”
California civic leaders spoke alongside Senator Wieckowski during the rally to underscore the importance of preserving Californians’ fundamental right to participate in our democracy: “How could the court silence our voices on the most profoundly impactful issue in American democracy today: the toxic effect of unlimited spending on our political process?” asked Eddie Kurtz, Executive Director of the Courage Campaign. “We are committed to doing all we can to educate the justices and help reverse this misguided decision.”
“Billionaires should not have thousands of times more free speech than the average American just because they have so much more money to spend on elections,” said Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign. “That’s why tens of thousands of Californians demanded that the legislature give them the opportunity to instruct their representatives to overturn Citizens United, and why tens of thousands more are asking the court to give us that right by restoring Prop 49 to the ballot.”
“By putting Prop 49 back on the ballot, the California Supreme Court would give Californians a chance to instruct their representatives to act against this grave threat to our democracy, ” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director, California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG). “Prop 49 would be on the ballot two years later than it qualified, but not too late for California to insist that our nation has the conversation it must have about our pay to play political system and what it will take to fix it,” said Michele Sutter, Chair of the Yes on 49 Committee.
“Today we rallied to demand the courts enforce our right to call upon Congress to take action to save our democracy by overturning Citizens United,” exclaimed Helen Grieco, the Northern California Organizer of California Common Cause. “We demonstrated that we have a common cause to ensure that our government remains of, by and for the people.”
The court is expected to issue a decision within 90 days.