As California pushes the envelope with progressive, first-in-the-nation policies, the courts are pushing back.
The latest casualty: a controversial law requiring all publicly held companies headquartered in the Golden State to have at least one woman on their board of directors.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis on Friday declared the law unconstitutional, ruling that it violates the equal protection clause of California’s constitution by explicitly distinguishing between individuals on the basis of gender.
The law’s “goal was not to boost California’s economy, not to improve opportunities for women in the workplace nor not to protect California’s taxpayers, public employees, pensions and retirees, wrote Duffy-Lewis. “The court found the evidence offered by defense (the state) … demonstrated that the Legislature’s actual purpose was gender-balancing, not remedying discrimination.”
Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis tweeted that she was disappointed by the ruling.: “Thanks to (the law), the number of women directors on California boards went from just 766 in 2018 to 1,844 just 3 years later, said the lieutenant governor. “It’s disappointing to see this set back for such an effective tool to help us achieve equal representation.”
But the decision’s practical implications are limited, said David Levine, a UC Hastings Law professor. During the trial, state officials acknowledged they had not been fining companies for breaking the law and had no plans to begin doing so.
The secretary of state’s office did not respond to inquiries about whether it plans to appeal the ruling.
The ruling comes about a month after another Los Angeles County Superior Court judge struck down a similar law requiring publicly held companies headquartered in California to have at least one board member from an “underrepresented community” — including those who identify as LGBTQ, Black, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander or Native American.
And it comes just a few days after a federal appeals court panel ruled unconstitutional California’s ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under age 21.
Meanwhile, other high-profile California laws are pending before the U.S. Supreme Court — whose conservative majority has repeatedly served as a political foil for Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Justices agreed earlier this year to hear a challenge to a voter-approved ballot measure requiring pork sold in California to come from pigs raised under conditions that animal rights advocates say are more humane.
And a group of California Catholic archdioceses and dioceses have asked the nation’s highest court to review their case against a state law that reopened a window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file legal claims against their alleged perpetrators, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred.
Another court test could soon follow if state lawmakers pass a Newsom-sponsored bill that co-opts the structure of Texas’ abortion ban by giving private Californians the right to sue manufacturers, sellers and distributors of illegal assault weapons, “ghost” guns and certain other firearms. Guns rights advocates have already voiced suspicions that such a law could be unconstitutional.