Politics & Policy

California Is Seceding from the Constitution

California state capitol in Sacramento (Photo: Jpainting/Dreamstime)
Is there no end to the harm progressives will do our republic in the name of ‘social justice’?

Forget the ludicrous #Calexit movement — why should a state bother seceding when it can simply nullify the portions of the Constitution it doesn’t like? A troubling trend is emerging: California is imposing its own vision of free speech, freedom of association, and freedom of the press on its citizens, and it’s daring the courts to stop it.

The entire nation has of course watched as the city of Berkeley and the University of California, Berkeley ceded control over free speech to violent left-wing mobs. Both the city and the campus have placed the safety of rioters over the liberty of their conservative citizens, refusing to protect that liberty on the dubious grounds that someone might get hurt. Thus, city and school leaders have knowingly and intentionally granted a heckler’s veto to the far-left, in effect making the First Amendment a dead letter at one of the nation’s (and the world’s) most prominent universities.

The rot extends far beyond Berkeley. Just this week, the California assembly’s judiciary committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of AB 569, a bill that would prohibit religious employers from enforcing entirely normal rules of Christian conduct on their employees. Thus, it would be illegal for Catholic schools to require that their employees choose life rather than get an abortion. Under the terms of the bill, employers can’t discriminate on the (extraordinarily broad, nebulous) basis of “reproductive health,” and the bill’s lead cheerleader, NARAL Pro-Choice California, left no doubt about its targets, drafting a supporting statement that listed exclusively religious organizations as offenders deserving punishment.

Speaking of abortion, let’s not forget the odious “Reproductive FACT Act,” which compels pro-life crisis-pregnancy centers to notify all their clients that they might be eligible for free or no-cost abortions. In other words, California forces pro-life organizations into becoming abortion advertisers. The Ninth Circuit has upheld the law, and the case is now before the Supreme Court.

And of course let’s not forget the California attorney general’s enthusiastic, selective prosecution of pro-life investigative journalists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for taping conversations with Planned Parenthood employees. This is the same state that mobilizes its resources to investigate duck and chicken abuse exposed by undercover journalists, but when undercover journalists expose the grotesque treatment of human babies? Well then, it’s time to prosecute the journalists.

It gets worse. California Senate Bill 30 would “prohibit any company from receiving a new or extended contract with the state of California if it participates in a future effort to build” Trump’s proposed border wall. In other words, it would condition the receipt of state contracts on a private party’s participation in politically unpopular activities.

Social-justice warriors may demand #Resistance, but they cannot opt an entire state out of the Constitution.

The list goes on and on. Until she was blocked last year, then–attorney general (now–U.S. senator) Kamala Harris required nonprofits to disclose their donor lists as a condition of fundraising in the state. A federal judge found that the disclosure requirement violated the First Amendment, and noted (surprise, surprise) that “the Attorney General has systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality of” the disclosure forms her office received. In fact, Americans for Prosperity discovered more than 1,400 allegedly confidential forms published on the attorney general’s website.

In short, California public officials at every level of state and local government have taken it upon themselves to replace core constitutional protections with their own radical vision of social justice. This isn’t federalism; it’s lawlessness. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and every state law, ordinance, regulation, or practice that conflicts its guarantees of individual liberty must be struck down.

A proper form of federalism gives the state the ability to formulate, for example, its own tax systems, criminal codes, economic policies, and educational standards. It does not give the state the power to curtail constitutional protections of free speech, due process, equal protection, and religious liberty enjoyed by American citizens simply because of where they live.

Social-justice warriors may demand #Resistance, but they cannot opt an entire state out of the Constitution. It’s time for the courts and Congress to protect liberty, and it’s time for California to remember that membership in our constitutional republic carries with it constitutional obligations. California, you can’t nullify the Bill of Rights.

— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.

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