958 F.Supp. 1446 (N.D.Cal. 1997), C 95-02638, Bates v. Jones

Docket Nº:C 95-02638 CW.
Citation:958 F.Supp. 1446
Party Name:Tom BATES; Edward H. Lyman; Richard Sterling; Ardis Graham; Richard D. Lewis; Lawrence J. Buchalter; Jonathan Browning; Rachel Sherman; Martha M. Escutia; Sylvia Hernandez; Ana Rosa Pena; Claudia Navar; Barbara J. Friedman; Susan Zarakov; and Harriet Sculley, Plaintiffs, v. Bill JONES, Secretary of State of the State of California; Bradley J. Clark
Case Date:April 23, 1997
Court:United States District Courts, 9th Circuit, Northern District of California

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958 F.Supp. 1446 (N.D.Cal. 1997)

Tom BATES; Edward H. Lyman; Richard Sterling; Ardis Graham; Richard D. Lewis; Lawrence J. Buchalter; Jonathan Browning; Rachel Sherman; Martha M. Escutia; Sylvia Hernandez; Ana Rosa Pena; Claudia Navar; Barbara J. Friedman; Susan Zarakov; and Harriet Sculley, Plaintiffs,


Bill JONES, Secretary of State of the State of California; Bradley J. Clark, Alameda County Registrar of Voters; and Conny McCormack, Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters, Defendants.

Peter F. Schabarum and Lewis K. Uhler, Intervenors.

No. C 95-02638 CW.

United States District Court, N.D. California.

April 23, 1997

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Joseph Remcho, Remcho Johansen & Purcell, San Francisco, CA, for Tom Bates, Edward H. Lyman, Richard D. Lewis, Lawrence J. Buchalter, Jonathan Browning, Rachel Sherman.

Sharon L. Browne, Deborah J. La Fetra, Victor J. Wolski, Pacific Legal Foundation, Sacramento, CA, for Peter F. Schabarum, Lewis K. Uhler, Lee A. Phelps, National Tax Limitation Committee, Alliance of California Taxpayers & Involved Voters.

Karen Leaf, CA State Attorney General, Sacramento, CA, for Bill Jones.

Kelvin H. Booty, Jr., County of Alameda Counsel's Office, Oakland, CA, for Bradley J. Clark.


WILKEN, District Judge.


Do the lifetime legislative term limits provisions of the California Constitution, as enacted by Proposition 140 in 1990, violate the United States Constitution? This question implicates some of the core values of our American system of government: majority rule, minority protections, the right to vote, the autonomy of the States, and the role of the federal courts in upholding constitutional principles.

Majority rule is the basic assumption of American government. The legitimacy of the democratic process, however, depends upon the ability of voters to express their political preferences at the ballot box. "The right to vote freely for the candidate of one's choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government." Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 555, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 1378, 12 L.Ed.2d 506 (1964). The Constitution provides a number of safeguards to protect the right of the people to vote for their representatives. Some of these safeguards are explicit, such as the right to vote regardless of race or gender. The United States Supreme Court has found others to be implicit, such as the principle of one person, one vote. The Supreme Court has observed that congressional term limits "violate that 'fundamental principle of our representative democracy ... that the people should choose whom they please to govern them.' " U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779, 793, 817-18, 115 S.Ct. 1842, 1850, 1862, 131 L.Ed.2d 881 (1995) (quoting Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 547, 89 S.Ct. 1944, 1977, 23 L.Ed.2d 491 (1969)).

The United States Supreme Court has held that a State may impose reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions on the ability of citizens to vote for the candidate of their choice when the State has an important reason for imposing those restrictions. When a State's restrictions on the ability of potential candidates to run for office impose a severe burden on voters' or candidates' First or Fourteenth Amendment rights, however, the State must establish that those restrictions are narrowly tailored to accomplish compelling State interests. Otherwise the restrictions are unconstitutional. Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 434, 112 S.Ct. 2059, 2063-64, 119 L.Ed.2d 245 (1992). Permissible restrictions typically require candidates to demonstrate a modicum of popular support or to comply with reasonable procedures meant to insure orderly elections.

California's version of lifetime legislative term limits differs from the restrictions that the Supreme Court has upheld in the past in that it imposes an absolute and permanent

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ban on the participation of a certain category of candidates: experienced legislators. This lifetime restriction on legislative service prevents voters who value legislative experience from expressing their preference when voting for their State legislators. It also permanently bars voters who support a particular term-limited candidate for the legislature from stating their support at the ballot box. Finally, it burdens voters' right to associate for the advancement of their political views by denying them the opportunity to rally around the candidates of their choice. California's version of term limits thus severely burdens the political process by denying voters the opportunity to vote for a category of candidates or for particular individuals whom they support.

California's sovereign interest in structuring its political institutions is due substantial deference. When a State restructures its political institutions in a manner that imposes a severe burden on the ability of citizens to vote for the representatives of their choice, however, the State must provide justifications in addition to its interest in determining its own political institutions. Otherwise State institutional decisions would be immune from federal constitutional scrutiny. The State also has a substantial interest in promoting political accountability. However, at the trial of this case, the State failed to establish, as it must, that a lifetime limit on legislative service is narrowly tailored to achieve this interest. Less restrictive versions of term limits would achieve the benefits attributed to lifetime term limits while imposing significantly less severe burdens on the rights of voters. Other reforms that do not restrict the ability of voters to vote for the candidates of their choice would also achieve the benefits attributed to lifetime term limits.

This Court does not lightly overrule the political judgment of the California electorate. However, it is the singular duty of a federal court to determine when political judgment must give way to constitutional principle. " 'One's right to life, liberty, and property ... and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.' A citizen's constitutional rights can hardly be infringed simply because a majority of the people choose that it be." Lucas v. Forty-Fourth General Assembly, 377 U.S. 713, 736-37, 84 S.Ct. 1459, 1474, 12 L.Ed.2d 632 (1964) (quoting West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 638, 63 S.Ct. 1178, 1185-86, 87 L.Ed. 1628 (1943)) (footnote omitted). When a law conflicts with the United States Constitution, it is the Constitution, not the expressed will of a majority of the voters, that must govern the Court's decision. "It is, emphatically, the province and duty of the judicial department, to say what the law is." Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 176, 2 L.Ed. 60 (1803). 1 Because California's extreme version of term limits imposes a severe burden on the right of its citizens to vote for candidates of their choice, and because it is not narrowly tailored to advance compelling State interests, it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.


Former Assembly member Tom Bates and some of his supporters filed this lawsuit in 1995, seeking to enjoin enforcement of California's term limits so that Bates could run for reelection in 1996 to an eleventh term in the Assembly. The Court permitted the official proponents of Proposition 140, Peter Schabarum and Lewis Uhler, to intervene as Defendants. Bates v. Jones, 904 F.Supp. 1080, 1086 (N.D.Cal.1995). 2 The Court denied

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Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, as well as Defendant Secretary of State Bill Jones' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Id. at 1098.

In March, 1996, Defendants moved for summary judgment, and Plaintiffs moved for leave to amend their complaint by adding as new Plaintiffs Assembly members Martha Escutia and Barbara Friedman and some of their constituents. The Court denied Defendants' motion for summary judgment and granted Plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend. Order, May 30, 1996.

Trial was conducted from October 15 to October 24, 1996. Pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.


A. History of Term Limits

The movement to impose legislative term limits is a recent phenomenon, although one with some historical precedent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The expectation that legislators would serve in office for a limited period of time, return to private life, and then perhaps serve again later, was widespread in colonial America. This practice was known as "rotation." Tr. 603 (Petracca). 3 Rotation was generally an informal social norm rather than a legal mandate, but the Frameworks of Pennsylvania and Delaware, drafted in the 1680s, explicitly required it. Tr. 604. However, no colony imposed a lifetime limit on legislative service. Tr. 609. After independence, the Articles of Confederation limited delegates to Congress to three years of service in any period of six years. U.S. Term Limits, 514 U.S. at 823-27, 115 S.Ct. at 1865-66; Articles of Confederation, art. V. The bills of rights of Massachusetts, Virginia, and a few other States enunciated the principle of rotation, but did not impose specific limits on legislative service. Tr. 604, 608. Of the States, only Pennsylvania formally required legislators to leave office after a specified period of time. No...

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