In San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors v. Monell (2023) 91 Cal.App.5th 1248, the Court of Appeal upheld a voter initiative setting an unprecedented one-term limit and significant salary reduction for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. While courts have generally upheld term limits, this case tests the outer bounds of such laws.
In November 2020, San Bernardino County voters passed Measure K, a voter initiative with two main provisions. First, it provided that a County supervisor can serve only one four-year term. An unexpired term also counted towards the one-term limit, if two or more years remained when Measure K went into effect. Second, Measure K limited the compensation of a supervisor, including all benefits, to $5,000 a month.
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision that Measure K was invalid, in an opinion filed late May 2023 but substantially modified just last week. The Court applied the Anderson-Burdick standard of review, in which courts evaluate the constitutionality of an election regulation by considering whether the regulation severely burdens a constitutional right. If so, the regulation must be carefully tailored to advance compelling governmental interests. If not, the governmental interests at stake—compelling or not—must justify the burden on those rights.
The Court found that Measure K’s one-term limit was subject only to the latter, less exacting level of scrutiny because it is neutral, nondiscriminatory, and does not preclude an incumbent from holding other office. Applying this standard, the Court found that the public policy interest in curbing the advantages of incumbency outweighed the burden on the rights of candidates to run for elected office and of voters to select their preferred candidates.
Importantly, for Charter counties, the Court also upheld Measure K’s limit on supervisor compensation, finding that State law (Govt. Code Section 25300) does not limit a charter’s authority to set these salaries. The Court also rejected the County’s argument that the compensation limit might violate minimum wage laws as speculative and irrelevant to the validity of Measure K on its face.
If you have any questions about the case or other election-related matters, please contact your RPLG attorney or Andrew Shen.