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Court Greenlights Citizens United Ballot Question

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Workers at the San Francisco Department of Elections sort stacks of vote-by-mail ballots. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In a 6-1 ruling, the California Supreme Court on Monday said the state Legislature does have the authority to put advisory questions on the ballot. The ruling stems from a case involving Proposition 49.

The 2014 advisory measure would have asked California voters whether Congress should overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision on political spending. The court blocked the measure from that year's ballot while it decided whether advisory questions were legal. Monday's ruling clears the way for the Legislature to put the question on a future ballot.

But Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson says the decision is limited.

“What we have here is the majority treading the middle ground, saying the Legislature can put nonbinding questions, advisory measures, on the ballot if there’s some connection between the question and legislative activity," she says.

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Writing for the majority, Justice Kathryn Werdegar said the Legislature can conduct investigations "to inform the exercise of its other powers."

But in his dissent, Justice Ming Chin argued that lawmakers should not be permitted to “hijack the ballot to serve its own agenda.”

Levinson says voters should expect to see more advisory questions in the future. She points out they can be politically beneficial for legislators.

“The lawmakers can go back to their constituents and say, 'I really care about what you think. In fact I even asked you a question on the ballot and I want to hear from you,' " she says.

State lawmakers would have to pass a new bill to put the question on the 2016 ballot.

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