On April 18, the California Senate Elections Committee heard two important election law bills. SB 568 moves the primary for all office (in presidential years) from June to March. SB 149 requires presidential candidates to reveal their tax returns or be barred from the ballot. It is clear that both bills will pass later today, as soon as absent Democratic State Senators return to the committee room and cast their votes.
SB 149 involves complex issues of constitutional interpretation. The U.S. Supreme Court held in 1995 that states cannot add ballot access requirements to control how politicians behave. That decision, U.S. Term Limits v Thornton, struck down an Arkansas ballot access law that barred three-term members of Congress from getting on the ballot for a fourth term. The decision says the framers of the Constitution intended the qualifications listed in the U.S. Constitution to be the only qualifications, and says states can’t add other qualifications. Yet no one testified against SB 149. The law professor who testified in favor, Professor Abby K. Wood, didn’t even mention U.S. Term Limits in her testimony. The only U.S. Supreme Court case she mentioned is Anderson v Celebrezze. She seemed to believe that if states have a good reason to require exposure of tax returns, then the states may use ballot access laws to insist that they are revealed.
SB 568, by moving the primary for all office (in presidential years) to March or even earlier if the Governor desires an earlier primary, forces all candidates for Congress to file in the odd year before the election. No state has ever had a system that forced all candidates for congress to file in the odd year before the election, except that Arkansas briefly had such a law in place, until it was struck down in Libertarian Party of Arkansas v Martin last year. There are almost 60 constitutional lawsuit decisions that have struck down early deadlines, for minor party or independent candidates, on the theory that states cannot freeze the status quo by forcing all candidates for such an important office to file a year or so before the election itself.
Only one witness, C. T. Weber of the Peace & Freedom Party, testified on SB 568 and mentioned this aspect of the bill. The few Senators in attendance listened politely but his testimony did not ilicit any questions or comments. Only one person, Kim Alexander, testified in favor of the bill.