SAN FRANCISCO – The state Supreme Court on Thursday declined to intervene in California's recall election, clearing the way for an Oct. 7 vote on whether to remove Gov. Gray Davis (search) from office and replace him with some other candidate on the ballot.
The announcement came after the justices held hours of closed-door discussions that began Wednesday, and after more than 400 would-be governors from all political persuasions and backgrounds took out nomination papers in advance of the 5 p.m. Saturday deadline to file their candidacy.
The justices, six Republicans and one Democrat, chose not to enter the politically charged recall arena, two weeks after the election was certified. Never before has California's sitting governor been targeted by a voter-driven recall election that qualified for the ballot.
The court was responding to five petitions. Two asked to block challengers' names from appearing on the ballot. One asked to move two unrelated ballot initiatives to the March primary election.
Another, filed by Davis, sought to delay the vote until March amid accusations that some of the state's counties would otherwise use outdated punch-card machines. Another asked the court to review the requirement that candidates need only $3,500 and 65 signatures of registered voters to get on the ballot.
The court was unanimous in dismissing all the petitions except in the latter case.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George (search) and Justice Carlos Moreno (search), the court's only Democrat, wrote that Secretary of State Kevin Shelley chose regulations regarding local recall elections, not statewide recalls. They said the recall should be stopped until the high court reviews the issue, but they were outnumbered by their fellow justices.
"The chaos, confusion, and circus-like atmosphere that have characterized the current recall process undoubtedly have been brought about in large measure by the extremely low threshold set ... for potential candidates to qualify for inclusion on the ballot to succeed to the office of governor," George wrote.
Several federal lawsuits still remain. A case was filed early Thursday in Los Angeles by the American Civil Liberties Union (search), alleging that some of the state's 58 counties are ill-prepared to carry out a vote by Oct. 7, and that others would be forced to use voting machines they had promised a federal judge they would discard by March.
The error rate of the machines, which gained national notoriety during Florida's bungled 2000 presidential election, is between 2 and 3 percent, the ACLU said.
Besides Los Angeles County, the ACLU suit says punch-card machines would be used in Alameda, Mendocino, San Diego, Shasta and Solano.
Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara School of Law scholar who closely follows the court, said the justices were reluctant to impede the rough-and-tumble of democracy.
"They believe the courts should kind of stand back and let the people go at it," Uelmen said. "They're saying they don't want to take any steps that would interfere with this process or delay it."
"Let the circus begin," he added.
In the two cases seeking to eliminate replacement candidates from the ballot, the court dismissed petitions that asserted Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search) automatically succeeded Davis if a majority of voters approved the recall.
"Nothing ... in the history of the California constitutional recall procedure as a whole indicates that it is not appropriate to include a list of potential successor candidates when a recall election involves the office of governor," Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote.
The court also chose not to allow Davis to list himself as a potential successor candidate. And it declined to move to the March ballot two ballot initiatives, one that seeks to bar all California governments from tracking race in schools and the workplace.