By President Emilio Varanini and
Board of Representatives Chair Betty Williams
Our country has been focused for many weeks now on the very important presidential election coming up tomorrow. If early voting numbers are any indication, we could be looking at a record turnout. This is great news for our representative democracy, also known as our republic.
But as important and consequential as the presidential election is, it’s not the only election that demands your attention. We would argue that equally important are the plethora of state and local issues on the ballot that will have profound effects for us as citizens and as California lawyers.
There are a dozen statewide initiatives alone. Among the weighty questions we’re being asked to consider: Should we repeal Proposition 209, the constitutional amendment California voters passed in 1996 prohibiting affirmative action? Was the California Legislature correct in eliminating cash bail for nonviolent criminal offenders?
We know these ballot issues are important to CLA members because 600 of you signed up for a free webinar last month analyzing the propositions and California’s process for citizen-made laws.
We hope you’ve also educated yourself about the state and local officials who are running for office. These elected officials may not get the airtime or visibility of a presidential candidate, but they certainly have vast responsibilities over decisions that affect our day-to-day lives. If you’re a parent, for example, it’s up to your local school board to make sure remote learning is successful and to decide how and when schools may be reopened safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
When it comes to the pandemic, the decisions affecting our daily lives are being made by our state and local officials, with guidance from our public health officials. A state’s right to exercise its police power to protect public health has long been recognized by the courts. In Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 29 (1905), the Supreme Court found that states could require people to get vaccinated for smallpox.
This division of powers between the state and the federal government was by design. As Sacramento-born U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in 1995, “The Framers split the atom of sovereignty. It was the genius of their idea that our citizens would have two political capacities, one state and one federal, each protected from incursion by the other.”
The Constitution, drafted by a convention of representatives from the different states, provides that the laws of the United States “shall be the supreme Law of the Land,” while the 10th Amendment provides that the “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively.”
Bar associations are organized along similar lines. The American Bar Association, having been founded by state bars, primarily focuses on being the nationwide voice for our profession. The CLA serves as the statewide bar association in California on behalf of the attorneys licensed in this state, the state and federal legal systems that govern our state, and all Californians.
CLA is acting daily on our mission of promoting excellence, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and fairness in the administration of justice and the rule of law. We highlighted some of this work last month when we addressed the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. CLA is honoring Ginsburg’s legacy by:
- Pursuing justice against systematic racism and discrimination in our society. We must eradicate racism and discrimination as a society to fulfill Justice Ginsburg’s promise of equal rights under the Constitution. Find out more about the work of our Racial Justice Committee.
- Teaching students about this year’s 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. For more information, see the Civic Engagement and Outreach (CEO) Committee page.
- Providing opportunities for pro bono service by lawyers.
In addition to the presidential election, we implore you to also consider the importance of state and local government to our daily lives and the role that you and CLA can play in maintaining fairness in the administration of justice and the rule of law at the state and local level.