Sorry, Californians. You won't get the chance to vote on a ballot initiative to call for my execution. A state judge yesterday afternoon ruled that Attorney General Kamala Harris didn't have to move forward with preparing a submitted ballot initiative that demanded the execution of all gay people in the state and would have additionally authorized citizens to take matters into their own hands.
Judge Raymond M. Cadei ruled that Harris did not have to give the so-called "Sodomite Suppression Act" an official title and summary to prepare for its proponent, attorney Matthew McLaughlin, to attempt to collect signatures, because the initiative is "patently unconstitutional on its face," Cadei wrote. Forcing Harris to prepare it for circulation would "waste public resources, generate unnecessary divisions among the public, and tend to mislead the electorate." A ballot initiative misleading the electorate? No way!
There was obviously no way the Sodomite Suppression Act would ever be implemented as law even if McLaughlin collected enough signatures (if he even planned to actually try to do so—he has been completely silent over the matter, suggesting he had no intention of actually doing anything to get his own initiative passed).
But there are concerns by folks—who presumably do not want to chop up gay people and feed them into woodchippers—about how this decision has played out. An elected official and a judge worked together to shut down a citizen's participation in California's system of direct democracy legislation right at the start. In this case, it's extremely clear that the initiative was unconstitutional. But most initiatives are not so clear. What if this becomes a habit? From The Sacramento Bee:
In response to Monday's decision, the executive director of Consumer Watchdog agreed that "there is obviously no gray area" in the fact that murder is illegal. But she worried about a precedent of attorneys general going to the courts to block other ballot initiatives with a similar argument.
"I do worry that it opens the door for another attorney general to decide another issue they don't like is unconstitutional, be it campaign contributions and the First Amendment or what happened in Proposition 8," which outlawed same-sex marriage, Carmen Balber said. "It's a disturbing slippery slope."
Far better, Balber said, would be if Harris had issued the title and summary and then courts had invalidated the proposition after a private citizen launched a legal challenge.
"The attorney general is supposed to do her job," Balber said, "and someone else can sue to stop it."
Harris, a Democrat who is running to succeed the retiring Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate, no doubt has her eye on the kind of publicity she would get if she did nothing and let the initiative play itself out. Not everybody has such a nuanced grasp of how the complex ballot initiative system should work, and given the outrageousness of the example, it's questionable whether people see the "slippery slope" possibility here.