Politics & Government

Morro Bay man's challenge to California election code is successful

San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald
San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

It’s no longer necessary for members of San Luis Obispo County political party committees to take and sign an oath of loyalty to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of California in order to assume membership.

A ruling Nov. 1 by Superior Court Judge Martin J. Tangeman found the three sections of the state’s election code requiring the oath to be unconstitutional.

The case, brought by Morro Bay resident John Barta against Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald, was made on the premise that being forced to take an oath is a violation of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, expression, and assembly, as well as California constitutional free speech rights. The challenge also contended that “it cannot be shown that requiring such as oath is necessary for it to ensure a fair and orderly election process,” according to the ruling.

California election codes 7210, 7408 and 7655, require members of committees for the Democratic, Republican, and American Independent parties to speak and sign an oath, which is excerpted here:

“I, ______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California.”

San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald maintained neutrality by refusing to defend the constitutionality of the statutes, “stating in essence that her sole duty is to comply with the law,” the ruling states.

“Ms. Rodewald is a fine county clerk. This was nothing against her. It was just to fix an aberration” to statutes written in the 1950s, said Stew Jenkins, one of Barta’s lawyers.

“These particular statutes stand constitutional principles on their head. They are designed for the Legislature to control political activity,” Jenkins said, adding that by the statutes’ logic, an individual who wants to join a political party would have to swear to support and defend the California Constitution, even if they disagreed with a particular constitutional provision — such as Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage.

Both Barta and Rodewald were unavailable for comment Monday.

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