Whenever the U.S. Senate confirms Neil Gorsuch – or some other Donald Trump nominee – to the U.S. Supreme Court, it will face a plethora of issues, and those involving California will be among the most controversial.
Obviously, the legal battles over refugees and immigration loom large for California, a prominent destination of choice for those seeking economic opportunity or refuge from war.
So does an Illinois case, replacing one from California that was stalled by the death of Antonin Scalia a year ago. It could undermine public employee unions’ immense political influence by making union dues voluntary.
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The court was clearly poised, albeit by a 5-4 margin, to overturn mandatory dues laws in California and other states when Scalia died unexpectedly. The California case fell by the wayside on the remaining 4-4 tie.
It’s likely, too, that once a new justice is seated, groups of California gun owners will try to overturn new regulations on guns and ammunition that the Legislature and voters adopted last year.
In the past, the court has tended to favor gun owners and their rights under the Constitution’s Second Amendment, declaring that while regulation is not prohibited, it must not unduly burden the law-abiding.
California already had the nation’s strictest firearms laws before the Legislature added some new restrictions, followed by passage of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ballot measure, Proposition 63.
The uniqueness of the state’s gun regulations makes them ripe for legal challenge before a court that will tilt somewhat to the right once Trump’s nominee is seated.
Last week, another California case emerged, challenging the state Supreme Court’s declaration last year that the state could regulate gold mining on streams flowing through federal land, despite federal law allowing mining on those lands.
The state, while not explicitly prohibiting suction dredging, has imposed a de facto ban, asserting that it damages habitat.
Small-scale prospectors dispute the contention, and one of them, Brandon Rinehart, was arrested five years ago in Plumas County for violating the ban and placed on three years’ probation.
A state appeals court ruled that federal mining law superseded state rules, but last year the state Supreme Court reversed that decision, declaring that the federal law did not “guarantee to (dredgers) a right to mine immunized from exercises of the states’ police powers.”
Last Friday, the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation, which specializes in defending property rights in environmental disputes, appealed Rinehart’s case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It looms not only as a test of the ban on gold dredging, but of whether federal law more generally trumps – pun intended – state environmental regulations, which could affect a raft of issues in which California has gone beyond the national government.
A final note: Once the vacancy is filled, Anthony Kennedy, the only Californian on the court, will resume his well-established role as its decisive swing vote between four liberals and four conservatives.