Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wilson v. San Luis Obispo County Dem. Central Comm. (Cal. Ct. App. - June 29, 2009)

The United States is not, say, Iran, right? Or even Honduras.

There's no way that someone could get elected to an office and then get booted out -- notwithstanding her victory in the election -- simply because other elected officials didn't like her. Right?

Think again.

Gail Wilson wins an (admittedly uncontested) election to the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. The Elections Code provides that she can be booted out if she registers as a republican, misses meetings, and stuff like that, but Wilson doesn't do anything like it. She does, however, raise a stink about some of the other members of the Committee being allegedly ineligible for office. Which does not endear her to her fellow officeholders. So they decide to boot her out. And vote 22-10 to do so.

Wilson files a petition for writ of mandate, saying: "Hey, the voters elected me. You can't unelect me just because you don't like me." But the Court of Appeal, in an opinion by Justice Yegan, says: "Yes they can."

This may seem bizarre, but Justice Yegan's probably correct as a doctrinal matter. Even though this is an elected office, it's an internal political party, and their own bylaws might be something to which we have to give deference. So if they say, for example, "I don't care if you get elected: The second you say nice things about the shape of an elephant, you're booted," we're compelled to go along with that. However silly.

Nonetheless, I do think the opinion demonstrates that there are at least segments of our elections that are not as far from the electoral systems of unfree countries as I might have initially thought. I wouldn't have thought upon first glance that an elected official could be booted just for objecting to the alleged illegality of some of her colleagues -- and by those very same colleagues, no less. But apparently I was wrong.