Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"California calls for constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United"

Great to talk to Sharon McNary for this one on the KPCC site. 

The California Legislature this week asked Congress to overturn the Supreme Court's ruling in the controversial Citizens United campaign spending case and curb the influence of corporate money in politics.
If 34 states ask, Congress would be required to hold a constitutional convention to draft an amendment.
In Citizens United, the court ruled that corporations have free speech rights under the First Amendment to independently spend unlimited amounts supporting candidates and measures. The 2010 ruling unleashed larger bouts of spending in national, state and local campaigns by corporations, unions and nonprofit organizations.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) was among the many voices denouncing the Citizens United ruling. Both houses of the state legislature approved his Joint Assembly Resolution 1, in which California asks Congress to draft a law overturning Citizens United.
There are two ways to amend the Constitution. One is for two-thirds of Congress to propose an amendment which becomes law only after three-quarters of the states (38 of them) ratify it.
The other way is for 34 state legislatures (two-thirds of the 50 states) to pass bills calling on Congress to hold a constitutional convention. The California legislature did so Monday, becoming the second state, after Vermont, to ask Congress to draft a law overturning Citizens United. Gatto said the Illinois legislature was also considering taking the same action.
If the convention results in a proposed amendment, it would have to be ratified by 38 states to become law.
Gatto said he objected to Citizens United because it gave corporations, which don't die, cannot be jailed and can be run from other states and countries, human-like rights.
"And the idea that they have the exact same free speech rights as human beings, it's something that I'm not sure our founding fathers would agree with," Gatto said.
He said that some past efforts to force Congress to hold a constitutional convention have ended short of the 34-state approval step when Congress wrote and passed its own amendment for states to ratify. The repeal of Prohibition is an example.
Gatto said he did not have in mind any specific language he wanted Congress to adopt. He said the necessity for so many state legislatures to reach agreement during the ratification process would guarantee the most widely acceptable language would be in the amendment.
Loyola Law professor Jessica Levinson said it was doubtful that 34 states would approve a call for Congress to overturn Citizens United. She said history has shown that members of Congress were more likely to short-circuit the constitutional convention process by writing their own amendment for states to ratify.
She said other means of change less drastic than a constitutional amendment were more likely to temper the impact of Citizens United. She said the Federal Election Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission and the IRS could enact regulations to make corporate sources of campaign money more transparent to the public. Congress could pass laws calling for more disclosure of the sources of campaign money.
Also, the public could show that big money campaigns are a turn-off, she said.
"For independent expenditure groups, people will stop spending money when they stop getting a bang for their buck," Levinson said.

Why Californians Don’t Vote

Thanks to California Secretary of State candidate Pete Peterson for linking to my piece "What the What?" re low turnout in elections. 

His post, on Zocalo Public Square, is here. 


In the stages of grief, media coverage of California voters’ low turnout in the June primary jumped denial, and headed straight to anger and bargaining.
“Something amazing happened in California on Tuesday: Hardly anyone came out to vote,” read a recent Washington Post piece. “I have three words to describe the primary elections held in California this week: What the what?” began an essay by Jessica Levinson in The Huffington Post.


Monday, June 16, 2014

"Stakes High in Few California SBOE Cases Involving Ex Parte Communications"

Quoted in this one in Bloomberg BNA. 

Even though SBOE members aren't judges and their forum isn't a court, the same reasons why ex parte communications aren't allowed in court proceedings could be valid at the SBOE, Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson, who focuses on election law and ethics, told Bloomberg BNA May 9.
In a court setting, neither side should have a direct link to the judge without the other side being present, she said.

“It's fair to ask ourselves if we should do it in this setting,” Levinson said. “With so few people availing themselves except for sophisticated taxpayers maybe it's not working.”

At a minimum, the meetings should be disclosed, Levinson said. Next, someone needs to be watching the disclosures.

“Mass disclosure only gets us part of the way there,” she said.

SCOTUS rules there is Art. III standing to challenge a false statement law

The Supremes issue a unanimous opinion in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehause.

The opinion is here.

More from the indispensable SCOTUSblog here.

Friday, June 13, 2014

"California Democrats replace 'spend' with 'invest'"

Quoted in this one in the AP. 

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, described Democrats' replacing the word "spending" with "investment" as a rhetorical device to make their budget proposals more acceptable.
"Is it smart rhetorically to categorize this as an investment rather than just an expenditure? Absolutely, because it makes it sound like we're not just spending money," she said.

Read more here:

"How the Supreme Court Saved the Right to Vote"

My latest book review is here, on the Los Angeles Review of Books. 

Here is an excerpt:

Smith also brings us inside the courtroom for the oral arguments and subsequent conferences, deliberations, and opinions drafting by the justices. This portion of the book will be particularly intriguing, even if not groundbreaking, for scholars of the Court. Smith’s behind-the-scenes portrayal of the Supreme Court is at times reminiscent of Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong’s classic book, The Brethren, which provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Supreme Court during the beginning of Warren Burger’s tenure as Chief Justice. And even though the reader ultimately knows the outcome of the major plot points, this middle section of the book, in particular, is full of maneuvering and suspense.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Riverside: City sues registrar to block marijuana ballot measure"

Quoted in this piece.

The intersection of federal and state marijuana laws is “a hornets’ nest of conflicts” but many states – including California – have chosen to allow medical use of marijuana despite the federal prohibition, said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Riverside’s argument, that the local marijuana measure exceeds voters’ authority, is common in fights over ballot issues, she said.
Levinson said she hasn’t read the proposed initiative or Riverside’s suit, but if the city is right, “It’s not contravening the democratic process. ... It says, ‘This is illegal, so why should it go through the democratic process?’” 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

"Those professors can keep professing."

Thank you.  

Quoted in this piece in the LA and OC Register. 

Some California legislators are poised to repeal Proposition 187, a controversial 20-year-old initiative that was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court and never enforced. But law scholars question whether the elected officials have the legal authority to act on their own.
“The California Constitution says you can’t amend or repeal an approved measure without submitting it to the voters unless there’s a waiver clause,” said Jessica A. Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes on election law.
Told of the legal scholars’ opinions, [Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles] said: “Those professors can keep professing.” Erasing the language of Prop. 187, he said, would be “powerfully symbolic.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Runoff vote in supervisor race will be pivotal for L.A. County"

Quoted in this one in the Los Angeles Times. 

"There will be prodigious fundraising on both sides and it's going to be a competitive race," said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and member of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.
Two independent expenditure committees were formed during the primary campaign by business interests to support Shriver's candidacy. There is likely to be more such activity in the runoff, Levinson said.
But that spending, which can't be coordinated with candidates, can carry political risks, Levinson noted. In last year's L.A. mayoral contest, Wendy Greuel won labor's backing and more than $3 million in support from independent groups, much of it from a union representing Department of Water and Power workers. She lost to Eric Garcetti, who portrayed himself as a more fiscally responsible choice who would stand up to labor pressure for richer contracts.
"Independent spending can backfire,'' Levinson said. "Wendy Greuel became 'The DWP's mayor.' That did not help her."

ICYMI: My pre-election discussion with Madeleine Brand of KCRW's "Press Play"

Link here.

And a the post-election wrap up on "Press Play," here.

Election Night Recap: What the What?

Here is a link to my appearance on KCRW's "Press Play" today.

My initial thoughts on last night's elections: What the what?

My op-ed is posted here, on Politix. 

Here is the beginning of the piece:

I have three words to describe the primary elections held in California this week: What the what? Special thanks go to Tina Fey for coining this apt phrase.
Sure, the outcome of many races was not a surprise, but election night took a few unexpected turns.
First, voter turnout statewide was 18.3%. Read that again. Less than one of the five people who are registered to vote bothered to show up. There are about 17.7 million registered voters in California and just over 3.2 million cast a ballot in the June 3 elections. Over 38 million people live in the state, which means that each person who voted essentially weighed in on behalf of almost 12 others.
Things were worse on the local level with 13.1% of registered voters in Los Angeles County casting a ballot in a variety of contests from County Board of Supervisors to Sheriff. More on the Sheriff's race in a moment. Over 9.9 million people live in the County, and over 4.8 million are registered to vote. This means that each of the over 636 thousand people who voted in Los Angeles County made decisions affecting 15 others.
There are a number of reasons why this is the case. The "biggest" race on the statewide level was for Secretary of State, and that office typically does not bring people to the polls, although ironically it is that office that helps run the polls.

"From White House cabinet to county office: Why Hilda Solis is back home"

Good to talk to Niraj Chokshi at the Washington Post for this one.  

“They wield tremendous influence and much of that influence is wielded behind the scenes,” says Jessica Levinson, an election law professor at Loyola University’s law school in Los Angeles and the vice president of the city’s ethics commission.

Candidates push to the finish line: Special election decides who will take open seat on City Council for 10 months.

Quoted in this one re local special elections. 

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who focuses on election law, said although she expects "dismal turnout" during the statewide primary, it could have been worse if it was a city-only special election.
"It's a very good idea to make sure a special election coincides with a statewide election. Even if we hit 18% or 20% turnout, that still is better than turnout would be for a special election just for a local issue," she said. "Those elections have really, really dismal turnout."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"California’s new ‘jungle primary’ gets its second-ever test on Tuesday"

Quoted in this one in the Washington Post

“It changes voter behavior to the extent that you’re not just locked into the voting for whichever member of party you think should get to the general election,” says Jessica Levinson, an election law professor at Loyola University’s law school in Los Angeles and the vice president of the city’s ethics commission.

New title announcement - I am an "Election Sherpa" -- "What you need to know before you vote"

Here is a link to my appearance on "Press Play" with Madeleine Brand.