Before I begin this analysis, I have to take a brief moment to warn you:
What you are about to read is absolutely a current initiative in California. If the recent RFRA debacle in Indiana rubbed you the wrong way, this one is going to walk up to you and punch you in the throat. You have been warned.
In February of this year, Huntington Beach-based lawyer Matt McLaughlin submitted a ballot initiative asking the state to put the Sodomite Suppression Act on the November ballot. California AG, Kamala D. Harris, may find herself in the unenviable position of allowing this reprehensible initiative to proceed unless the Superior Court in Sacramento steps in and relieves her of the task writing the title and summary.
If the court refuses, she will have to let McLaughlin begin the 180-day signature collection process. The initiative needs 365,880 signatures to make the November ballot. In response to a number of requests that she simply not allow it to proceed, Harris said, “It is my sworn duty to uphold the California and United States Constitutions and to protect the rights of all Californians. This proposal not only threatens public safety, it is patently unconstitutional, utterly reprehensible and has no place in a civil society.”
Unfortunately for Harris, California law doesn’t grant her any discretion as to approving or refusing initiatives. The process is simple: write the proposed law and pay $200.00. Ms. Harris explained her position and lack of legal options saying, “If the court does not grant this relief, my office will be forced to issue a title and summary for a proposal that seeks to legalize discrimination and vigilantism.”
The overwhelming opinion is that this hateful initiative will fail to make it to the ballot but that if it does, Californians will express their outrage and disbelief by voting “No.” As in the Indiana RFRA, the backlash against McLaughlin was immediate and severe. Senator Ricardo Lara demanded that the State Bar of California investigate McLaughlin. In his letter to the Bar, Sen. Lara stated that he was “deeply disturbed that a member of the State Bar would promote such pitiful, evil and hateful sentiments in this proposed initiative.” Apparently, the Bar agrees, at least than an investigation is necessary. Its communications director told reporters that no comment could be made, as they are looking into the matter.
McLaughlin’s former employer, Bruce C. Bridgman, a former deputy DA for both LA and Orange County, wasn’t so quiet, though. He said, “My own personal opinion here is that he has crossed the line, between free speech and advocating illegal conduct. I am frightened that there are people like this in our community, and that they are given special status, in this case, as a member of the California bar. The bar association should revoke his license. This clearly indicates moral turpitude and advocates illegal conduct and heinous, horrible, reprehensible conduct.”
It remains to be seen what will happen to McLaughlin. Certainly, his initiative will be in the news for some time. Personally, I hope that the court steps in to relieve Ms. Harris of the onerous duty of writing the title and summary. If it doesn’t, I certainly hope that the citizens of California refuse to sign the petition.
In my mind, there is no question regarding the action the Bar should take. McLaughlin clearly overstepped the 1st Amendment Free Speech protection as surely as if he’d yelled “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. One cannot simultaneously be an officer of the court, sworn to uphold the law, and an advocate of the wholesale extermination of an entire class of citizens. If he is not disbarred, the State Bar will have forever besmirched its reputation and made the Rules of Professional Conduct a lame joke.