John Burton on Sit-Lie Legal Challenge

by John Burton on November 23, 2010

My good friend C.W. Nevius seemed to miss the point about the opponents of Sit and Lie and the Constitution of the United States. Chuck said that people are not in good faith when they go to court to challenge the will of the voters. Under that reasoning, civil-right activists should not have challenged Proposition 14 in 1964 which placed discrimination in the sales and rentals of housing into the California Constitution. The State Supreme Court promptly overturned “the will of the voter.” Now even the real estate industry that sponsored Prop 14 would not want to reinstitute racial discrimination or inhibit people’s ability to rent or own a home. Also under Chuck’s logic, gay-rights activists should not have gone to court to challenge Proposition 8, which basically took away a person’s constitutional right to marry the person of their choice.

The fact that both Chuck Nevius and Chief Gascon considered it outrageous that people would challenge a law that they considered unconstitutional shows ignorance and lack of respect for the Constitution of the United States. If the court upholds the law, it is one thing, but to say that once people vote nobody should challenge it is another matter. If that were the case, African-Americans, Asians-Americans, and Latino-Americans would not be able to buy the homes of their choice and the dream of same-sex marriage would not exist because “majority of people is for it.” The beauty of democracy is that majority cannot take away rights of people in the minority.

I believe that it is not unreasonable for people to wonder about the discretionary enforcement of this law. I have strong doubts whether construction workers sitting on the sidewalks across from a construction site having a coffee break or eating their lunch would be rousted and cited by the police. On the other hand, some scraggly homeless person sitting on the street not violating any other law would be told to move along or be cited. The real concern that must be answered is how selectively will the enforcement of Sit and Lie be. Everybody should know that there are sufficient laws in both the State Penal Code and the San Francisco Municipal Code to stop aggressive behavior toward people whether they are on sidewalks, streets, or in public establishments.

I am sure that if Chuck and I were to sit outside the Chronicle on the street having a Diet Coke or a cup of coffee, we would probably be ignored. On the other hand, some scraggly-looking person on Sixth Street maybe told to move along.

So let’s see how the court hearing plays out and how enforcement works. Let’s see how things change in the city as the result of this law. Let’s not denigrate people’s right to challenge a law because “it is the will of the people.”

John Burton is the former President of the California State Senate, and currently serves as Chair of the California Democratic Party.

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