The California Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that the state legislature does have the power to use advisory ballot measures. The decision will allow lawmakers to place a nonbinding question on ballots to ask voters whether they feel there should be a new amendment to the US Constitution to overturn the 2010 US Supreme Court [official website] decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [opinion, PDF], which eased restrictions on campaign spending. The California court ruled against the plaintiffs on Monday in a 6-1 decision. Justice Kathryn Werdegar, in her written opinion, stated that lawmakers have the right to ask voters about potential federal constitutional amendments in order to ensure that they are “truly speaking on behalf of their states” during the amendment process.
This is not the first time that the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United [Cornell LII backgrounder] has caused controversy. In its 2010 holding, the Supreme Court struck down Section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) [text, PDF], which prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech defined as an “electioneering communication” or for speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. The ruling was sharply criticized by US President Barack Obama later that year, most notably [JURIST reports] in his State of the Union speech. Obama warned of the increased potential for powerful interest groups, both foreign and domestic, to wield excessive influence over American elections and called for bipartisan support of legislation to counteract the decision. Also that year, the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] held a hearing [JURIST report] on the effects of the Citizens United decision.