Chula Vista Citizens v. Norris

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 04-03-2015
  • Case #: 12-55726
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Chief Judge Thomas and Circuit Judges Silverman, Graber, McKeown, W. Fletcher, Gould, Tallman, Rawlinson, Callahan, and Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

A requirement that the official proponent of an initiative be an elector does not violate the First Amendment right to freedom of speech of non-natural persons (i.e., corporations and associations); furthermore, a requirement that the name of the official proponent be published with a notice of intent and summary of the initiative withstands exacting scrutiny under the First Amendment because it bears a substantial relationship to electoral integrity, a sufficiently important governmental interest.

In 2009, Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition (“CVC”), an unincorporated association and ballot measure committee, and Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego, Inc. (“ABC”) wished to serve as official proponents of an initiative to prohibit Project Labor Agreements that require city contractors to pay their employees a prevailing wage. Provisions of the Chula Vista City Charter and the California Elections Code, however, required official proponents to be electors. CVC and ABC asked two CVC members—Lori Kneebone and Larry Breitfelder—to serve as proponents. The members’ first filing of the initiative was rejected because they had failed to include their names as the official proponents on the circulated petitions. In response to that rejection, CVC, ABC, and the members filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action challenging the elector requirement and the petition disclosure requirement. In 2012, the district court held that both requirements were plainly constitutional. On review, the Ninth Circuit first addressed the elector requirement, and looked to the plain language of the California Constitution, which provides that the “‘[i]nitiative and referendum powers may be exercised by the electors,’” and the Chula Vista City Charter, which provides likewise albeit in a municipal context. The panel determined that the provisions were clear: “only natural persons (also known as human beings) who have the qualifications to vote may undertake official roles in California’s initiative process, including the role of official proponent.” Applying exacting scrutiny to the petition disclosure requirement, the panel noted that “the actual burden on First Amendment rights by the petition disclosure requirement is quite small,” and further held that the integrity of the electoral process, which necessarily implicates the voters’ right to information, was a “sufficiently important” governmental interest that bore a substantial relationship to the petition disclosure requirement. AFFIRMED.

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