Three San Francisco school board members face recall elections on Feb. 15

Welcome to the Friday, January 28, Brew. 

By: Douglas Kronaizl

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Previewing the Feb. 15 recall election of three San Francisco, Calif., school board members
  2. Michigan Supreme Court overturns distribution and circulation registration requirements for initiative petition drives
  3. More on the process to fill a Supreme Court vacancy

Previewing the Feb. 15 recall election of three San Francisco, Calif., school board members

Recall elections against Alison Collins, Gabriela López, and Faauuga Moliga—three of the seven members of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education in California—are on the ballot on Feb. 15. 

Recall supporters said they were frustrated that schools in the district remained closed for nearly a year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Siva Raj, a parent who filed the notices of intent to recall along with Autumn Looijen, said, “We are parents, not politicians, and intend to stay that way. We are determined to ensure San Francisco’s public schools provide a quality education for every kid in the city.” Supporters also said they were upset that the board had spent time voting to rename 44 buildings in the district amid the pandemic. 

Collins, López, and Moliga were first elected to the board on Nov. 6, 2018. They received the most votes in an at-large election, defeating 16 other candidates

In response to the effort, Collins said, “We can’t let people scare us. When I see certain people getting upset, I know I’m doing the right thing. If it’s people that have power and don’t want to share it, there’s people who want to make decisions without being inclusive, of course they are going to get upset.”

López said, “The people who are behind this don’t know us, they don’t know our work, they don’t know what we’ve been doing, they don’t know what we are dedicated to. They hear what’s out there and they recognize this is an opportunity to bring down someone who is me.”

Moliga said, “The recall effort shows there is a group of parents that are frustrated with the school board. I am the first Pacific Islander ever elected in office in San Francisco, giving my marginalized community a voice in local government for the first time.” 

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, a Democrat, endorsed the recall on Nov. 9, 2021. 

We’ve tracked 23 school board recall efforts so far in 2022, more than the year-end totals for five of the past 13 years. Last year, we tracked a decade-high 92 efforts against 237 board members, 0.4% of whom were removed from office.

While some states require recall supporters to have a specific reason for the recall, others, including California, do not. Ballotpedia researches the reasons for recalls in both scenarios. The recall effort in San Francisco is one of nine across the U.S. in 2022 where recall supporters cited district policies regarding the coronavirus pandemic as a reason for the recall. This matches the number of COVID-related recalls as 2020. There were 54 such recalls in 2021.

In related school board news, we are preparing to launch Ballotpedia’s Hall Pass in the coming weeks, a free weekly newsletter designed to keep you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and education policy. Subscribe today to receive our very first edition!

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Michigan Supreme Court overturns distribution and circulator registration requirements for initiative petition drives

On Jan. 24, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned two provisions of a 2018 law that changed aspects of the state’s initiative process. The provisions of House Bill 6595 (HB 6595) the court said were unconstitutional were:

The supreme court upheld a provision of HB6595 requiring paid circulators to identify on petition forms that they are paid.

The Michigan State Legislature passed and former Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed HB 6595 in December 2018. A month earlier, in the 2018 general election, Michigan voters approved three initiatives to:

  • Legalize marijuana;
  • Create an independent redistricting commission; and,
  • Add voting policies, including straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration, same-day registration, and no-excuse absentee voting, as constitutional rights.

Ballotpedia recently published an analysis comparing the difficulty of different states’ signature distribution requirements. The analysis was based on two factors in particular:

  • The percentage of jurisdictions from which signatures must be collected; and,
  • The size of the requirement in each required jurisdiction.

Before it was overturned, Michigan’s distribution requirement was near the middle of the pack when compared to the other 16 states with distribution requirements for initiatives and veto referendums. Seven states had easier requirements and nine states plus D.C. had roughly equal or harder requirements. Mississippi’s requirement, as interpreted by the state supreme court in 2021, is mathematically impossible to meet with the state’s current four congressional districts.

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More on the process to fill a Supreme Court vacancy

On Jan. 27, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer formally announced his plan to retire at the end of the court’s 2021-2022 term. Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says the President of the United States “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint…judges of the supreme Court.” Here are three more important things to know about the process to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court:

  1. The most public part of this process is when the nominee testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee and takes questions. The hearing, which is kept open at the chairperson’s discretion, is where you will see senators asking the nominee questions directly. This appearance became a standard part of the process with the nomination of John M. Harlan in 1955. The first televised nomination hearing was in 1981 for Sandra Day O’Connor.
  1. One major recent change to the process of confirming a Supreme Court justice came on April 6, 2017, during Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation process. The U.S. Senate lowered the threshold to close debate on Supreme Court nominations to a simple majority from 60 votes. Before that change, any senator from the minority party could filibuster, or block, a nominee if there were an insufficient number of votes to end the debate.
  1. A president may also choose to make a recess appointment by appointing a new justice while the Senate is not in session. Under this method, the nominee would not need Senate confirmation. But the justice’s term would end with the end of the next session of Congress, rather than the lifetime appointments we see with Senate confirmation. 

Presidents have made 12 recess appointments to the Supreme Court, most in the 19th century. The most recent was President Dwight Eisenhower’s (R) appointment of Potter Stewart in 1958. Following the expiration of his term, Eisenhower appointed Potter again, this time with a Senate confirmation.

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