Chula Vista Citizens v. Norris

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 06-16-2014
  • Case #: 12-55726
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge O’Scannlain for the Court; Concurrence by Circuit Judge Bea; Dissent by Circuit Judge Graber
  • Full Text Opinion

Official proponents for ballot initiatives cannot be associations because any official proponent must be a natural person, and requiring an official proponent to identify themselves on the face of the petition for ballot initiative violates the First Amendment.

On April 28, 2009, associations and its members (“plaintiffs”) brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the City Clerk and other defendants (“defendants”), seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. The plaintiffs allege that the City violated First Amendment rights in regards to petition-proponent requirements for ballot initiatives. Specifically, the California Elections Code (“Elections Code”) contains provisions regarding initiatives and referenda that: (1) disqualify associations from being official proponents of ballot initiatives because electors must be natural persons (“elector requirement”); and, (2) that official proponents have to disclose their identity on the face of initiative petitions. The district court denied plaintiff’s motion and granted summary judgment for the defendants. On review, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling as it pertains to the elector requirement. The panel determined that the First Amendment does not protect associations’ right to serve as official proponents because an activity that is expressive in nature does not in itself secure protection under the Freedom of Speech Clause. The panel reversed the district court’s ruling in regards to the petition-proponent disclosure requirement, finding that the Elections Code did not meet exacting scrutiny and thus requiring official proponents to identify themselves on initiative petitions is invalid. The panel held that there must be a “substantial relation” between the petition-proponent disclosure requirement and the public interest sought by the Elections Code. Because the identity of official proponents becomes public information once filed with the City Clerk, requiring the proponents to identify themselves on the face of the petition poses a considerable infringement on First Amendment rights. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.

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