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‘Citizens United’ Bill Cleared for Calif. Ballot

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California lawmakers can ask for voters' opinions on campaign-spending laws after the California Supreme Court on Monday upheld the Legislature's power to use advisory ballot measures.

In a 6-1 decision, the Golden State's high court ruled lawmakers have the power to place a nonbinding measure on statewide ballots asking voters if Congress should be spurred to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling on unlimited independent campaign donations.

Writing for the state high court, Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar said lawmakers have a state constitutional right to ask voters about potential federal constitutional amendments.

"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 their states in the federal constitutional amendment process," Werdegar wrote.

The Legislature initially approved Proposition 49 in July 2014 and intended to place it on the November 2014 statewide ballot. But the initiative was immediately challenged by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the state high court blocked the advisory proposition - with only Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye dissenting - from appearing on the 2014 ballot.

The conservative Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association accused lawmakers of attempting to use the proposition to drum up Democratic voters and cluttering the ballot in a gubernatorial election. The group argued that allowing the advisory proposition could set a precedent for future nonbinding measures.

In its appeal, the Legislature argued that 11 other states have used advisory measures and that the contentious Citizens United ruling is an important matter of public policy.

A majority of the state's high court did however discuss the Legislature's ability to use advisory measures. In his concurring opinion, Justice Goodwin Liu wrote that the ruling pertains to questions regarding federal constitutional amendments and that there needs to be a nexus between the advisory proposition and potential action by the Legislature.

In his 13-page dissent, Justice Ming Chin said the advisory measure didn't belong the ballot and that the trial court correctly barred Proposition 49 in August 2014.

"Placing advisory measures on the ballot - a right denied even to the people - is no part of the legislative function and does not come within either the Legislature's lawmaking or ancillary powers," Chin wrote. "As the governor explained, and as everyone agrees, it is merely an advisory measure that would have no legal effect even if passed."

The U.S. Supreme Court passed the Citizens United decision 5-4 in 2010, ruling that unlimited campaign contributions by corporations are protected under free speech and that the First Amendment does not prohibit speech based on the speaker's identity.

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