Brown Signs Bill to Protect Minority Rights from Discriminatory Ballot Initiatives

For immediate release:

(SACRAMENTO, CA) – Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Chair of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, strengthening minority rights to challenge state and local ballot initiatives that deny their ability to equally impact the political process.

Ting’s Assembly Bill (AB) 2646 extends structural equal protection, a principle established by the United States Supreme Court, to California law.  It will enable minorities to challenge discriminatory laws on the basis that they restructure the political process in ways making it inherently more difficult to enact future policy changes on issues of primary concern to them.

“This signature will help preserve the rights of all Californians,” said Ting.  “I expect this bill will be most helpful in challenging discriminatory ballot measures.  Californians have passed initiatives denying equal rights in housing, school integration, and same sex marriage.  All were ultimately overturned by the courts.  I hope those dark days are behind us but am grateful that we have more tools to fight for equality.”

AB 2646 passed the Assembly 59-13 after a 23-10 vote in the Senate.  Governor Brown signed it on Tuesday, September 30.  The bill is supported by a coalition of civil rights organizations.  A collection of statements from AB 2646 supporters follows.

"Under Assemblymember Ting's leadership in authoring this legislation, California has restored and secured a critical measure of protection for minority rights to political participation after the conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority cut back on those rights yet again in a decision earlier this year." stated Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF, one of the bill's sponsors.  "AB 2646 helps to ensure that minorities in California continue to enjoy equal rights to influence policymaking on issues of significant concern."

"With the signing of AB 2646, California law now protects individual rights and liberties on equal footing with the U.S. Constitution," said Eva Paterson, President of the Equal Justice Society.  "The new law is especially critical with the U.S. Supreme Court's rollbacks of important civil rights protections."

"AB 2646 is a critical safeguard for minority communities, including Asian Americans, who participate in the political process,” said Vincent Pan, Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action.  “Assemblymember Ting's effort addresses a longstanding legislative gap that had prevented minority communities from challenging statutes or ordinances when such policies deny equal protection of the law.  This ensures all communities can have a fighting chance to challenge important public policies impacting their families and livelihood."

"The California State Conference of the NAACP applauds Governor Brown and Assemblymember Ting's creating strong social justice policy in California under AB 2646 which prevents local government entities from subtly distorting governmental processes in such a way as to place special burdens on the ability of minority groups to achieve beneficial legislation”, state Alice A. Huffman, President of the California State Conference of the NAACP.  “Further, AB 2646 helps prevent manipulation of California’s state and local initiative processes to impose unfair, substantial and unique burdens on racial minorities.”

"Because lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are part of every ethnic and religious community, Equality California is dedicated to advancing equality for all Californians," said Rick Zbur, EQCA Executive Director.  "AB 2646 is an important step toward ensuring that the majority in California cannot deny the minority - including LGBT people and all the communities that we are a part of - an equal opportunity to impact the political process.  We applaud Assemblymember Ting for authoring this important bill and Governor Brown for signing it."

"Public Advocates applauds Governor Brown and Assembly Member Ting's recognition that public agencies should not be creating unfair obstacles for certain segments of our community to accessing the democratic process on an equal basis as the majority," said Liz Guillen, Director of Legislative & Community Affairs at Public Advocates.  "AB 2646 will protect the rights of unpopular groups who may be subject to attacks by extremists in the democratic process."

Contact: Anthony Matthews, tel. (916) 319-2019, anthony.matthews@asm.ca.gov