California legislators decided last year to ask voters whether they supported overturning a landmark ruling that allowed unlimited corporate spending to support or denounce federal candidates. A conservative taxpayers group balked, arguing that state legislators lack the power to put advisory measures on the ballot. The California Supreme Court agreed to remove Proposition 49 and to decide in a later ruling whether it could go forward in a future election. The court will hear arguments on the case Tuesday, generally the last step before issuing a decision. If the Legislature wins, Californians will be able to cast an advisory vote next year on whether Citizens United, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned campaign spending laws, should be repealed by a federal constitutional amendment.
Some scholars see the case as an important test of the separation of powers. Lawyers for the Legislature point out that no specific provision in the California Constitution prohibits legislators from placing advisory measures on the ballot.
Cities and counties often sponsor advisory measures, and the Legislature placed some on the ballot decades ago. More than a dozen other states also allow lawmakers to put nonbinding measures on the ballot.