As Legislature Returns, Will It Defy Supreme Court?

Sacramento, CA–The California Legislature returned to the Capitol Monday for the final few weeks of its annual session.  One of the big questions remaining is whether lawmakers will ignore a stinging rebuke from the U.S. Supreme Court. 
At issue is a bill now pending on the floor of the Senate known as Assembly Bill 2943.  It seeks to declare that counseling which assists adults in rejecting same-sex attraction is a fraudulent and deceptive practice.  Faith communities have been alarmed by the bill because it could limit how they counsel congregants to live consistently with their faith and church teachings on sexuality.  

Since the Assembly voted in June to approve the bill and sent it over to the Senate, a major Supreme Court decision has thrown the future of the legislation into doubt.  Until now, proponents of AB 2943 have relied on a Ninth Circuit decision upholding a predecessor ban on counseling for minors.  But in late June, in a case striking down California’s attempts to compel pro-life pregnancy clinics to promote abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court also disapproved the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning in the counseling case.  In one of his last opinions, Sacramento’s native son Justice Kennedy concurred with an unusually sharp rebuke of the California Legislature for ignoring First Amendment rights.
So far, lawmakers have largely shrugged off the Supreme Court rebuke and seemed poised to move ahead even though it would likely be declared unconstitutional.
Pacific Justice Institute challenged the earlier counseling statute, SB 1172, in court for five years before ultimately seeing it repudiated in June.  PJI has also testified against AB 2943.  Brad Dacus, president of PJI, commented, “The California Legislature has done a lot over the last several years to ignore free speech and religious freedom.  But I can’t remember a time when they have been on the verge of directly defying the Supreme Court.  Ultimately, the taxpayers will lose as the State will expend significant resources to defend this indefensible measure in court.  We certainly hope that reasonable minds prevail and AB 2943 is withdrawn.  But it continues to be vital for citizens to contact their elected legislators and express how they feel about important measures like this.” 
The California Senate could vote as soon as this week on AB 2943.  If approved, it would be sent back to the Assembly for another vote on amendments that have been added to it before going to Gov. Jerry Brown.