Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Martinez v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 12, 2006)

Ah, I love our political and democratic process. So pristine. So pure. So pretty.

On November 7, 2006, the voters of Los Angeles get to decide whether to adopt Measure R. Measure R does a number of different things (which is deliberate, in part in order to obscure its central function), but the most important -- and controversial -- portion of the measure is to increase from two to three the number of terms that a city councilmember may permissibly serve. So it basically waters down term limits by 50%.

Who passed this proposed amendment to the city charter for submission to the voters, you might ask? The city council, of course. So the've basically proposed to increase their own ability to get reelected.

Which is fine. If that's what the voters want, that's what they should get. No one disputes that fact.

The only issue in this case is how we're going to describe this measure on the official, nonpartisan ballot summary distributed to voters. You may then further inquire: Who's in charge of preparing this official summary, which is required by law to be neither false nor partisan to one side? You'll be happy to know that the answer is: the City Council.

So the L.A. City Council decides that the neutral way to summarize this measure, which (again) increase the length of the permissible term of city councilmen, is to describe it as follows: "COUNCIL MEMBER TERM LIMITS OF THREE TERMS. . . . Should the Charter be amended and ordinance adopted to [] change Councilmember term limits to three terms. . . ."

Now, that's pretty darn neutral, huh? There's no way anyone's going to read that and think that the measure imposes terms limits, right? Nah. That's not at all what the City Council is doing. They're really trying to be fair and impartial. They could have said: "LENGTHENING COUNCIL MEMBER TERM LIMITS. . . . Should the Charter be amended and ordinace adopted to [] lengthen Councilmember term limits to three terms." That'd be a ton, ton clearer, right?

But, nah, the City Council says: "I like it the way I wrote it. I like not mentioning that we're increasing the term limits; indeed, to instead imply that we're actually imposing term limits. That's totally neutral and nonpartisan. That's how I'd write it if I was totally disinterested in the outcome. I promise. It's a totally neutral description, as required by law."

When an interested voter files suit to change the official ballot summary, the trial court, Judge O'Brien, laughs off the City Council's purported justification and orders the ballot summary changed to the neutral language referred to above. But Justice Rubin, in this opinion, grants a writ and reverses the order, holding that the language adopted by the City Council is indeed neutral and nonpartisan as required by state law.

What a pretty picture. As exemplified by this case, I'm so, so pleased with our democratic process.

It's as pure as the driven slush.