Bates v. Jones

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Bates v. Jones is the name of a federal lawsuit concerning the term limits imposed on the California Legislature by California Proposition 140 (1990). The lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful.

Former California Assemblyman Tom Bates and several of his constituents filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California seeking to have the court determine that the lifetime term limits in Proposition 140 violated their federal constitutional rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken upheld the claim of Bates and enjoined California Secretary of State Bill Jones from enforcing the provisions of Proposition 140.[1]

The National Tax Limitation Committee and Bill Jones appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. At the Ninth Circuit, a three-judge panel heard the appeal. Two of them upheld Wilken's ruling. At that time, a majority of the active judges of the Ninth Circuit vote to rehear the case. When the case was re-heard before the full circuit, Wilken's earlier verdict was overturned by a margin of 8-3, and the law went into effect.[2],[3] Twenty-six members of the California State Legislature who had hoped to extend their stay in office were thus unable to file papers to run again for office in the November 1998 elections.

Voter ignorance

Judge Claudia Wilken and the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled 2 to 1 that the wording of the ballot proposal did not make the lifetime nature of the ban clear enough. As a result, they felt, voters were not entirely aware of what they were doing when they voted for Proposition 140.

Judge David Thompson wrote the majority decision for the Ninth Circuit. He rejected the claim of voter ignorance:

"'Voters had sufficient notice that Proposition 140 imposed lifetime bans."