September 16, 2013
Mr. Dooley long ago said that “th’ Supreme Coort follows th’ election returns.” A corollary to that observation is that the Legislature follows the Supreme Court. Supreme Court cases often inspire bills and this year’s recently concluded legislative session is no exception.
Usually, the Legislature waits for a Supreme Court opinion before acting, but we wrote about the quick response to Supreme Court oral argument questions in the In re Garcia matter. AB 1024, which has now passed and been sent to the Governor, would expressly allow the court to admit to the practice of law “an applicant who is not lawfully present in the United States.”
More typical in its timing is SB 655, which is also now on the Governor’s desk. Seven months ago, the Supreme Court held in Harris v. City of Santa Monica that an employee plaintiff who proves that “unlawful discrimination was a substantial factor motivating a termination of employment” still cannot recover damages “when the employer proves it would have made the same decision absent such discrimination.” SB 655 follows up on Harris by, among other things, defining “substantial motivating factor” and allowing for a civil penalty of up to $25,000 even when there is no right to compensatory damages.
Other recent Supreme-Court-inspired legislation awaiting action by the Governor is SB 7, which seeks to blunt the result in last year’s decision in State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO v. City of Vista. The Supreme Court held there that charter cities can ignore state prevailing-wage law when contracting for public construction projects. Because the court’s opinion was based on an application of state constitutional law, the Legislature can’t reverse the decision by statute. But the Legislature can encourage charter cities to forego their authority to not follow the prevailing-wage law, which is what SB 7 is about. The bill states that its purpose “is to provide a financial incentive for charter cities to require contractors on their municipal construction projects to comply with the state’s prevailing wage law by making these charter cities eligible to receive and use state funding or financial assistance for their construction projects.”
Ladies and gentlemen, your system of checks and balances and separation of powers at work.