Constitutional Refresher Course Needed for Messrs Steinberg and Lockyer

Tom Hiltachk
Managing partner at Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, LLP

The Sacramento Bee recently reported that both Senate President Pro Tem Darryl Steinberg (an attorney) and Treasurer Bill Lockyer (an attorney) are suggesting that the Legislature will cut funding for certain government services and programs to citizens in GOP districts if the legislator representing said districts refuse to budge on tax increases to close the budget deficit.

Steinberg is reported to have said: “You don’t want to pay for government, well then, you get less of it.” Further, he is quoted as saying: “When it comes to kids or the vulnerable, I wouldn’t want to make distinctions between who lives in a Democratic district and who lives in a Republican district, but when it comes to sort of basic services, convenience services that affect adults … I have an open mind.”

The Bee reported that the Treasurer shares the same view, stating that Lockyer “has suggested that an all-cuts state budget should focus on the districts of lawmakers who oppose putting $11 billion in tax extensions before voters.”

Funny, when I went to law school I remember that there was a pretty basic Constitutional principle that the law applies equally to everyone. I even looked it up to make sure that I was right and sure enough I found it, in two places. Both our State and Federal Constitutions guarantee all of us (not just those represented in the Legislature by Democrats) equal protection of the laws. It is actually pretty clearly stated, you don’t need to have finished at the top of your law class to understand it: “No state….shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” I also remembered from law school that there are rarely absolutes in the law and that government can sometimes burden constitutional rights for good reason. If the group of people burdened is of a certain type, the government has to have a really good reason for the disparate treatment. Without doing much research, I just assumed “represented in the Legislature by a Republican” is not a protected class of individuals, so I tried to figure out the “rational basis” (i.e. good reason) that would justify the Legislature denying some of the rights and privileges of citizenship (enacted through law) to certain citizens.

In such cases, the Courts look to the legislation and the legislative history as a guide to find the good reason for the disparate treatment. The reason given by Messrs. Steinberg and Lockyer? Retribution and punishment. Now I am not Constitutional scholar, but I don’t think retribution and punishment are going to fly as sound reasons to deny some citizens all the privileges enjoyed by their neighbors who are lucky enough to live in a district represented by a Democrat who wants to raise their taxes…. and exactly how is that lucky?

Oh wait, that’s me… I live in Mr. Steinberg’s district. Stand firm Republican Legislators! I think he’s bluffing.

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