California Governor Gavin Newsom
The lawsuit filed against Gov. Newsom by recall leaders said state election law bars ballot arguments in the voter information pamphlet that are false and misleading.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Civic Life

Recall leaders sue to stop Newsom from calling them Republicans, Trump supporters

The lawsuit by the leaders of the recall campaign contends that Newsom’s ballot arguments contain false and misleading information. One UC Davis law professor said he would be “shocked” if the suit succeeded.

The leaders of the campaign to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom have sued to try to prevent Newsom from describing them as “Republicans and Trump supporters.”

The lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, said state election law bars ballot arguments in the voter information pamphlet that are false and misleading. The recall campaign said many of its supporters are not Republican and nearly half the candidates who want to replace Newsom are not Republicans.

“This case is purely about making sure the taxpayer-paid voter information guide contains the truth,” said Eric P. Early, the lead lawyer for the recall campaign and a declared Republican candidate for state attorney general in the 2022 election.

The recall election will be held Sept. 14. A poll last month found that voters were almost evenly divided over whether to remove Newsom. Turnout is expected to be key

The suit said 24 of the candidates who want to replace Newsom are Republican, 10 have no party preference, nine are Democrats, one is a Libertarian and two are members of the Green Party. The named individual plaintiffs in the suit are recall leaders Orrin E. Healie and Mike Netter.

Nathan Click, a spokesman for the Newsom campaign, called the suit “totally baseless.”

“The facts are clear — this is a partisan Republican recall: one that was launched by Republicans like Heatlie and Netter and funded almost exclusively by Republican donors, the RNC and allies of Donald Trump,” Click said. “Republicans know they can’t win in a normal election year, so they are trying to force a special election and grab power.”

In their legal response, lawyers for Newsom argued that the recall was clearly a Republican effort. More than 91% of those who launched the recall were registered Republicans, the lawyers said.

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“California’s Elections Code does not give one side free rein to rewrite the other side’s argument,” the response said.

UC Davis law professor Christopher S. Elmendorf said he would be “shocked” if the suit succeeded.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has signaled that the First Amendment generally disallows any state effort to regulate ‘truth’ or ‘falsity’ in campaign speech,” he said. “The forum provided to Newsom in the voter guide is a forum to which the First Amendment applies.”

The recall campaign also wants the state to delete Newsom’s description of himself as a “Democratic” governor and remove his statement that “leading supporters are the same Republicans who fought to overturn the presidential election and launched efforts to undermine the right to vote across this country.”

The suit called the latter statement “at best misleading, at worst flat-out false, and in all events a hyperbolic outrage.”

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Newsom cannot be identified as a Democrat on the ballot because he missed a legal deadline.

One of his attorneys said he was unaware that California law had changed about two months earlier requiring recall subjects to file a party preference when they first issue a response to a recall effort. Newsom filed his response in early 2020.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.