Friday, October 24, 2008

What Does Article II, Section 4 Mean?

Article II, Section 4 provides that the Legislature "shall prohibit improper practices that affect elections." Apparently, it has never been the subject of litigation. That may change as the result of a lawsuit filed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. In their trial brief (available here), the HJTA contends that the ballot label, title and summary that the Legislature prepared for Proposition 1A on this fall's ballot are misleading and not neutral. The HJTA lost in the trial court but is planning to appeal.

Putting aside the issue of whether the HJTA's characterization of the ballot label, title and summary of Proposition 1A are correct, the HJTA has a tough road to hoe. Article II, Section 4 doesn't prohibit the Legislature from doing anything. Instead, it's a grant of legislative authority. While it's possible to read "The Legislature shall do x" as meaning "The Legislature may not do not-x," that would violate the rule that constitutional limits on the Legislature's power have to be clear and explicit. Still, kudos to HJTA for finding a never-litigated provision the Constitution to hang its hat on (and thanks to Tim Bittle for sending me the trial brief).

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