California's 9th Circuit Court strikes down law mandating identity of ballot measure proponents on front of petition

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June 16, 2014

By Brittany Clingen

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In a split two to one decision, California's 9th Circuit Court struck down a law mandating that the identity of ballot measure proponents appear on the front of petitions.[1]

The plaintiffs in the case, Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs v. Norris, contended that parts of the California Elections Code addressing initiatives and referenda, as incorporated into the Chula Vista, California Charter, were in violation of the First Amendment.

The code, in part, "required official proponents of local ballot measures be electors, which excludes non-natural persons and thereby excludes associations; [...] and that official initiative proponents identify themselves on the face of the initiative petitions."[2]

The court affirmed the district court's ruling, determining "that associations do not have a First Amendment right to serve as official proponents of local ballot initiatives." However, it reversed the district court's ruling regarding the identity of initiative sponsors on petitions, stating the requirement did not satisfy exacting scrutiny and therefore §§ 9202 and 9207 of the California Elections Code were invalid to the extent that the provisions require official initiative proponents to identify themselves on the face of initiative petitions.[2]

The suit was originally brought to court as the result of a local ballot initiative sponsored by a union. The group Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition (“Chula Vista Citizens”), an unincorporated association, and the Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego, Inc., an incorporated association of construction-related businesses (“the Associations”), jointly sought to place an initiative on the local ballot in 2008 that "mandat[ed] that the City or Redevelopment Agency not fund or contract for public works projects where there [was] a requirement to use only union employees." Since non-electors cannot sponsor initiatives, two members of Chula Vista Citizens, Lori Kneebone and Larry Breitfelder, agreed to serve as the measure's official proponents. However, Kneebone and Breitfelder did not print their names on the face of the petitions, instead providing the statement, "Paid for by Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition, major funding by Associated Builders & Contractors PAC and Associated General Contractors PAC to promote fair competition." City Clerk Donna Norris, the defendant, subsequently rejected the submission because the proponents' names were absent from the petitions.[2]

Those following the case closely anticipate that it will ultimately end up in the California Supreme Court.[1]

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