CA Citizens Get to Vote on ‘Citizens United’

California voters will finally get to tell Congress how they feel about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling allowing unlimited independent campaign contributions.

The California Supreme Court in a 6-1 decision Monday cleared the way for an advisory ballot measure sought by state lawmakers, known as Proposition 49.

Lawmakers have a state constitutional right to ask voters about potential federal constitutional amendments, wrote Justice Kathryn Werdegar.

The Legislature approved Prop. 49 in July 2014 for placement on the November 2014 statewide ballot, but it was immediately challenged by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the state Supreme Court temporarily blocked it while its legality was sorted out.

The taxpayer group said lawmakers simply wanted to draw out Democratic voters for the 2014 gubernatorial election.  They argued the ballot measure would set a precedent for future nonbinding measures.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 split in the Citizens United case that unlimited corporate campaign contributions are protected free speech and First Amendment does not prohibit speech based on identity.

The ruling has since opened the flood gates to campaign contributions by the wealthy and corporate interests and drawn criticism around the country.

In ruling on the right of the California Legislature to seek an advisory vote on whether Citizens United should be overturned by Constitutional amendment, Werdegar wrote, “We see no evidence the drafters of the California Constitution intended to deprive the Legislature of a tool other state legislatures have long used to ensure they are truly speaking on behalf of the states in the federal constitutional amendment process.”

In dissent, Justice Ming Chin said the advisory ballot measure is “no part of the legislative function.”

Case: Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc. v. Padilla, No. S220289


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