Archive for the ‘California Supreme Court’ Category

Press Clips: Chronicle Climbs Back in the Ring

Friday, July 24th, 2009

2gavinsNewsom vs. Newsom: Mega-kudos to Chronicler Carla Marinucci for leading the charge in her own newsroom to pull together a Page One takeout on Gavin Newsom’s exaggerated campaign claims about his record as San Francisco’s mayor.

The Wednesday piece occupied a big chunk of front page real estate, carried three bylines –-  political scribbler Joe Garofoli and City Hall beat pounder Heather Knight teamed with the hardest working woman in show business –- and served as a marker to establish the fact that Newsom routinely overblows his accomplishments on the trail.

Most notably, the paper knocked down Prince Gavin’s oft-repeated claims that he balanced the city budget without tax increases and that every high school graduate in town is “guaranteed a college education.”

On other issues, however, the piece was hardly dispositive in its overreliance on he-said-he-said equivocation and the spin of Newsom handler Eric Jaye; a too-brief examination of Newsom’s signature health care program, for example, did establish that he tries to hog credit for it, but didn’t address the substantive question of whether or how well the damn thing works. Where’s the low-wage bus boy who can tell whether he now gets medical care or the restaurant owner who says what it’s doing to his business?

Hopefully, this is just the first of a series of “Newsom Watch” pieces that will drill down in detail on his record; like it or not, other California media, not to mention the voters, will rely on the paper to vet their guy as he tries to claim the governorship. In the same way that the L.A. Times would have been expected to perform a scorched earth number on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s record had he decided to run, the Chron has front-line responsibility for holding Newsom accountable for his words and actions.


On Guard: Those seeking a fiercer test of Newsom’s campaign claims against his record are directed to a 4,147 word opus published by the weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Granted, the Guardian is not exactly the Christian Science Monitor when it comes to unbiased journalism; editor and publisher Bruce Brugmann is famous for bragging on the advocacy stances of his paper’s “Print the news and raise hell” journalism. And its lefty agenda on issues from pot to public power may not be shared by the millions of mainstream California voters Newsom is out trying to woo.

Beyond the paper’s disagreements with Newsom over specific issues, however, city editor Steven T. Jones reported and wrote a helluva’ piece that also deals with more fundamental qualities of leadership –- political relations with the legislative branch,  calculations about risking political capital and issues of transparency and secrecy, for example.

“The central persona being pushed by the Newsom campaign — that of a post partisan progressive who has united fractious San Francisco around innovative, common sense solutions to the most vexing problems using his considerable courage and political skills –- seems like pure fiction to most City Hall watchers,” Jones wrote.

“Newsom’s platform and persona are what voters want to hear right now — and they’re just believable enough to be an easy sell for modern media manipulators.”

Which is a good reason why the San Francisco media should keep chipping away at this key California political story.

gay_marriage_210Delay for gay marriage? Over at Politics Blog Chronster Garofoli  has been closely tracking the debate within the gay community on whether to push a repeal-Prop. 8 initiative next year, or wait until the bigger turnout 2012 national election. As he reports here and here the advantage seems to rest with those in favor of holding off.

As a political matter, it’s an important decision that carries implications for next year’s campaign for governor, especially for Prince Gavin. He faces steep hill to climb in overcoming Attorney General Jerry Brown, and needs all the toe-holds he can find to do it; a 2010 gay marriage campaign could give a nice boost of passion to the Prince’s primary effort, allowing him to, um, marry his own effort to the energy and enthusiasm of a Prop. 8 repeal bid.

Notwithstanding Brown’s no-on-8 stand before California’s  Supreme Court, despite the statewide vote in favor of the measure, Gavin’s out-of-left-field blessing of gay weddings in San Francisco set off the national debate of same-sex marriage, an historic and iconic action that trump’s General Jerry’s late-to-the-party stance. Whether you like it or not.

What Gay Marriage Ruling Means for Gov’s Race

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Further, We Look at Sotomayor and The GOP React

Attorney General Jerry Brown summed up most succinctly the impact of the California Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage in California.jerry_brown

“The courts have basically put the ball in the political arena and that’s where it’s going to be decided,” said the AG, whose office had fecklessly argued the case against the voter-approved constitutional amendment before the Supremes.

Swift reaction to the decision, both from the pro-gay marriage forces and from the potential candidates for governor, underscored Brown’s point: the contentious issue –- which pretty much splits California voters down the middle — will be an indelible part of the 2010 election season.

Supporters of gay marriage already announced plans for a 2010 initiative to reinstate the constitutional right of same sex couples to wed (although cooler political heads suggest that 2012 would be strategically smarter). Click Click

With Democrats mostly favoring same sex marriage and Republicans generally opposed, a ballot fight amid the governor’s race would energize activists on both sides, boosting turn-out and locking contenders into positions guaranteed to alienate half the electorate.

Although not a surprise, Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision sprang open the gate on Prop. 8 as a major issue shaping the governor’s race as a red state-blue state contest inside California.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom immediately declared “it’s our job to make sure history moves faster towards equality here in California,” taking to the mighty Huffington Post to blog a call to arms for a gay initiative.

While Prince Gavin clearly views himself as a man of history, for triggering the gay marriage debate by authorizing same sex weddings in San Francisco in 2004, he didn’t mention how he personally galvanized the Yes-on-8 campaign with his smug and smart-ass “whether you like it or not” comment when gay marriage was briefly legal last spring.

Brown, running hard against Newsom to capture the gay marriage primary, also promised to support a measure to ensure that same sex couples have the right to wed.

Ever the consummate political creature, he said he isn’t sure whether the strongest play would be in 2010 or 2012, when presidential year turnout for Obama’s re-election might better boost chances of passage.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pronounced himself “confident that this state will have a change of heart, will reiterate its broader commitment to justice for every citizen, and will overturn this unjust ban at the ballot box.”

Stirring rhetoric, Tony V, but are you talking as a mayor or a candidate for governor?

On the Republican side, pro-gay rights law school Prof Tom Campbell said he personally believes “gay Californians should have the same rights as straight Californians, including the right to marry.” But, he quickly added, acknowledging the obvious, “The people of California have the right to amend their own Constitution. Whether or not we agree with the policy behind any particular provision, there should be no doubt that ultimate sovereignty rests with the people.”

Talk about your profiles in courage.

Insurance commissioner Steve Poizner – who took NO public position on Proposition 8 that Calbuzz could find before last November’s vote (this SacBee piece seems to confirm that) – suddenly found the cojones to oppose gay marriage.

“The California Supreme Court took the appropriate action today in upholding the will of the people by affirming Proposition 8. The people of California have spoken. They voted decisively that marriage should remain between a man and a woman,” Poizner declared. “That is also my personal view.”

Who knew?

Surely not former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who opposed gay marriage by supporting Proposition 8 and who suggested – inexplicably — that Tuesday’s decision ranked right up there with Brown vs. Board of Education or Marbury vs. Madison.

“I believe the California State Supreme Court made the right decision. Last November, the people of California passed Proposition 8, and today the Court upheld their decision,” she said. “This simple yet powerful fact is the foundation of our democracy. Regardless of one’s position on the measure, this ruling gives people confidence that their vote matters and can make a difference.”

Mush, eMeg, mush!

Obama’s Pick for Supreme Court Confronts Reeps With a Problem

As if the state needs more political polarization, President Obama’s nomination of a Latina judge to the U.S. Supreme Court reminds us that Californians know the political impacts when Republicans, rightly or wrongly, are perceived as lining up against the interests of Latinos.

Former Gov. Pete Wilson may only have been opposed to illegal immigration in 1994. But with his ominous and iconic “They Keep Coming” ad, which showed Mexicans sneaking across the border, added to his aggressive push to restrict the rights of immigrants in Proposition 187, he became known on the streets of Mexico City and East LA alike as “hijo de puta.”

To say that the GOP ever since has been poisoned in California is gross understatement: The question now is whether Republicans – by vocally opposing Judge Sonia Sotomayor – want to do for themselves in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Florida, what Wilson et. al. did for their party in California?

Initial responses appear to answer in the affirmative. Here’s the text of an ad produced by the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, referring to an affirmative action case out of New Haven:

“Sonia Sotomayor, who didn’t give a fair shake in court to firefighters deprived promotions on account of race. Every American understands the sacrifices firefighters make. But on Sotomayor’s court, the content of your character is not as important as the color of your skin.”

This approach, according to some current and former Republican strategists, is totallyfriggininsane.

Republican strategists say the GOP needs 35-40% of Latino voters to be competitive nationally. And here’s what Sotomayor looks like to many of those voters, for whom her biography is a source of pride.

Child of parents born in Puerto Rico… Grew up speaking mostly Spanish… Raised in a public housing project in the South Bronx in the shadow of Yankee Stadium… Father died when she was 9… Graduated summa cum laude in 1976 from Princeton after winning a scholarship to the school… Earned her law degree from Yale in 1979, where she edited the Law Review… New York District Attorney’s office in the early 1980s…Currently serves on the Second Circuit in New York and was appointed to that position by Bill Clinton. BUT she was appointed to her first federal court appointment by President George H.W. Bush (link to NBC’s First Read)

Calbuzz asked USC’s Dan Schnur, one of the smartest guys in the room – and a former Pete Wilson communications director – how the Republicans can oppose Sotomayor without further alienating Hispanics and falling into the Prop. 187 trap:

“They can’t,” said Schnur, now director of the Jesse M, Unruh Institute of Politics. “There’s no way to oppose Sotomayor on the merits without it being portrayed to Hispanic-American voters that it’s a matter of race,” he said.

Matt Dowd, another very smart Republican with experience in California (having helped elect Gov. Arnold) told the New York Times the Republicans can’t even be seen as threatening Judge Sotomayor.

“Because you’ll have a bunch of white males who lead the Judiciary Committee leading the charge, taking on a Hispanic women and everybody from this day forward is going to know she’s totally qualified,” he said. “It’s a bad visual. It’s bad symbolism for the Republicans.”

Grodin Says Runaway Con Con Not a Problem

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Despite fears of a “runaway convention,” the preeminent authority on the California Constitution believes a constitutional convention to revamp state government could be restricted to address only specific, limited issues.

A principal concern about the wisdom of amending the constitution by convention, a proposal that has gained attention amid continuing political and fiscal gridlock in Sacramento, is that once a constitutional panel is formed, its members could open a Pandora’s box of contentious, ancillary issues.

But former California Supreme Court Justice Joseph Grodin, professor emeritus at Hastings College of Law and co-author of “The California State Constitution: A Reference Guide,” told Calbuzz his preliminary legal research suggests otherwise.

“While there is no California authority, in other states courts have recognized the principle that a constitutional convention may be limited as to subject matter if the limitation is approved by the people,” Grodin said in an email.

Grodin’s comments are significant, not only because of his legal stature but also because they affirm the view of experts at the Center for State Constitutional Studies at Rutgers-Camden, who have advised the Bay Area Council, which is aggressively promoting a constitutional convention plan.

In an interview, Grodin said he is fascinated by the issue of a constitutional convention and has urged his colleagues at Hastings to institute a fall seminar for law students to study case law and host a conference, in order to provide legal leadership on the subject.

The Bay Area Council has outlined four areas it believes need to be addressed (quoted here from its website)

• Governance, including the structure of the legislative and executive branches of government, with the latter to include State agencies and commissions.
• Elections, including the initiative and referenda processes, campaign finance, and term limits.
• The Budget, including the budget process and related requirements, such as the 2/3rds legislative vote required to pass a budget, the term and balancing of a budget, and mandated spending.
• Revenue distribution, including the revenue relationship between local and state government.

Others have suggested that once a convention is called, it could be pushed to address other issues such as gay marriage, abortion rights, prayer in school, immigration, the death penalty, press freedom or other significant but divisive topics not directly related to basic governance.

For example, Calvin Massey, Grodin’s Hastings colleague and co-author, warned that an argument can made that a convention, once assembled, “is entitled to propose what it wants . . . everything’s up for grabs . . . The brake on this is the good sense of the conventioneers to address the issues that need to be addressed” to ensure that whatever they produce could be approved by a majority of voters.

As this would be the first constitutional convention in more than a century, the issue has not been tested in California. As the BAC notes:

“California has had two previous constitutional conventions: in 1849 and in 1878, which produced our current system. In 1962, the constitution had grown to 75,000 words, which at that time was longer than any other state constitution but Louisiana. That year, the electorate approved the creation of a “California Constitution Revision Commission,” which worked on the constitution from 1964 to 1976.

“The legislature placed revisions emanating from the Commission on the ballot. The electorate ratified the Commission’s revisions in 1966, 1970, 1972, and 1974. In the end, the Commission managed to remove about 40,000 words from the constitution, but otherwise made only minor changes.”

Grodin, however, suggested that legal precedent elsewhere suggests limits are possible. In an email to Calbuzz, he wrote:

“I have done some preliminary research which shows that while there is no California authority, in other states courts have recognized the principle that a constitutional convention may be limited as to subject matter if the limitation is approved by the people, as would be the case in California if the Legislature (by 2/3 vote) placed on the ballot a provision for a limited constitutional convention that was approved by the people, or if the state constitution were amended to allow the people to propose a constitutional convention by initiative, and the initiative called for a limited convention.”

“The question remains how that limitation would be enforced in the event the delegates to a convention exceeded the limitation. There is some authority (again, in other states) that in such a situation a court might intervene to prohibit voting on revisions that exceed the limitation.”

Alan Tarr, professor of political science at Rutgers and director of the state constitutional center there, agreed with Grodin’s analysis:

“Typically, in most states, there is no barrier to limiting a constitutional convention,” he said. “There’s no legal obstacle to it.”

Moreover, he noted, to his knowledge there has never been a “runaway convention.” Sometimes members are required to take an oath pledging to adhere to the limitations in the convention call. In addition, the chair of the convention can use the authority to declare extraneous issues out of order.

The Bay Area Council’s strategy for calling a convention is:

1. To ask the Legislature to place a call for a convention – with specific subjects on the agenda – on the ballot it 2010. This procedure, the only method spelled out in the California Constitution, would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
2. If the Legislature is unable or unwilling to reach a two-thirds consensus, the Bay Area Council will seek signatures to qualify two ballot measures: A) amending the constitution to permit voters to call a constitutional convention by initiative and B) calling the constitutional convention itself. These would require a majority vote.

There are a variety of methods for impaneling constitutional conventions, but the system favored by the Bay Area Council, at this point, would be to use a random selection of registered voters, much like a jury-selection process.

Detail about precedent on these issues may be found in The Law of Limited State Constitutional Conventions at the Rutgers site.

Best Bets for Tuesday’s Prop. 8 News

Monday, May 25th, 2009

The California Supreme Court has announced it will issue its landmark decision in the Proposition 8 gay marriage case at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The court’s web site says the opinion will be immediately available here.

For the view on the breaking news from the anti-Prop. 8/pro-gay marriage side, check out our friends at Calitics, React from the pro-Prop. 8/anti-gay marriage proponents will be here.

We Surf So You Don’t Have To, Memorial Day Edition

Monday, May 25th, 2009

memorialdayMemorial Day Mystery: Limbering up for some rigorous holiday chillin’, Calbuzz made a quick online check to find the origin of Memorial Day, figuring we’d just casually…drop it in…to the barbecue conversation; as with most things political, however, the answer came neither quickly nor clearly, as it turns out bragging rights are in dispute and break down along red state-blue state lines.

Newsweek reports that the holiday formerly known as Decoration Day was started by freed slaves in celebration of Union soldiers who died in prison camps, but a Purdue history professor in a new book traces it to Southern ladies honoring Confederate troops. The official, establishment version, promulgated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has it both ways, stating that Yankees and Rebs alike got flowers on their graves at Decoration Day I in 1868. Maybe we won’t mention it after all.

Stroke, stroke, bail, bail: Although both Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner have rejected the notion of the feds providing California with a bail-out – apparently the government just can’t afford to divert taxpayer money away from the banks – the issue is not likely to disappear soon, given the magnitude of the Capitol’s fiscal mess.

With that in mind, both the Washington Post and the New York Times weighed in on Sunday with editorials about the wisdom of Washington coming to the rescue of Sacramento.

While unkind to California, the Post edit at least had the virtue of being clear what it was arguing (one word synopsis – NO!!!) while the Times propounded a total Miss Scarlett With The Rope In The Study head-scratcher that verged on the incoherent.

As far we can tell, the Times’ position is as follows: a) Obama’s right not to offer a bailout; b) failing to give California money could be an economic “fiasco”; c) California must fix its problem with spending cuts or tax increases, or both; d) spending cuts and tax increases are both bad during a recession; e) when Obama intervenes eventually, he should do so in a way that forces California not to adopt spending cuts or tax increases but; f) still causes a lot of pain so other states don’t line up for bailouts.

One free Calbuzzer button to the reader who best summarizes the Times editorial in 15 words or less. Bring back Gail Collins!

Pelosi and the P-word: Weirdest political yarn of recent days is Politico’s report on a new Republican National Committee ad that compares Speaker Nancy Pelosi to James Bond nemesis Pussy Galore:

“She’s the 69-year-old speaker of the House of Representatives, second in the line of succession and the most powerful woman in U.S. history. But when you see Nancy Pelosi, the Republican National Committee wants you to think “Pussy Galore.” At least that’s the takeaway from a video released by the committee this week – a video that puts Pelosi side-by-side with the aforementioned villainess from the 1964 James Bond film “Goldfinger.”

The full story, and a link to the ad, are here.

What’s up next: While Sacramento’s abattoir act advances this week, there are a couple other big political stories to watch for. The state Supreme Court is scheduled to issue its long-awaited ruling about the constitutionality of Proposition 8 on Tuesday, and with Republicans already threatening a filibuster, Obama allies say he’s likely to name his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court this week as well.