Everything you need to know about the effort to recall California's governor

Recall leaders said Wednesday night that they have well exceeded that target, turning in more than 2.1 million signature petitions to county officials. But it’s now up to those officials, who have until April 29 to finish verifying the signatures and then report their results to the California secretary of state.Here are some common questions about how the next few weeks could play out:Q: How likely is it that the recall will qualify for the ballot?A: At this point it looks pretty likely. Newsom’s sudden blitz of media interviews — and his vow to fight the recall — underscore that his team is taking the recall threat very seriously. The recall proponents have organized in all of California’s counties, and they collected more than 2 million signatures, so they would have a cushion if some signatures were duplicates or were deemed invalid for other reasons. And so far, the signature validity rate is very high — yet another reason it’s likely to qualify. The latest report from the secretary of state in early February showed that of the signatures checked by county officials so far, 83.7% were valid. The recall organizers also hired a third-party firm to verify signatures before they were submitted, eliminating many duplicates on the front end.Q: If it qualifies, how soon would the recall land on the ballot?A: No one has a good answer to that yet, because there are a lot of procedural steps that must be completed before the lieutenant governor would officially call the recall election. But sources on both sides of the recall expect it to land on the ballot sometime between August and December. First though, there’s an arcane series of next steps. After county election officials finish verifying signatures by the end of April, the secretary of state has until May to report back to the counties about whether the recall has qualified. After that, any voter who signed a recall petition has 30 business days to reconsider and withdraw their signature. Then county officials conduct a second verification process to determine whether there are still enough signatures. If the recall proceeds, the California Department of Finance and the secretary of state come up with a cost estimate that is sent to the chair of the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee, Newsom, Lt. Gov Eleni Kounalakis and Secretary of State Shirley Weber. The budget committee has 30 business days to review the estimate. After final signoff from Weber, Kounalakis would be required to set a date for a recall election that is no earlier than 60 days from that point and no later than 80 days.Q: What would voters see on the ballot if qualifies?A: The state’s voters will be asked two questions. First, do they want to vote “yes” or “no” on recalling Newsom. And two, who should replace him — a question that is likely to be followed by a very long list of names, just as it did in 2003, when Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, replaced former California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.Q: Can Newsom enter his own name in the running for question No. 2 as a backup plan?A: No. He’s banned from doing so under state election law.Q: Newsom was elected in 2018 with nearly 62% of the vote in one of the most liberal states in the country. How did he end up in this predicament?A: This is actually the sixth time that Newsom’s opponents have tried to recall him, which demonstrates the polarized climate in America, even in a blue state like California. Early on, recall proponents were most focused on their ideological differences with the governor. The recall petition, which was written before the pandemic began, argues that Newsom failed to adequately address the state’s high taxes, immigration, widespread homelessness, lack of affordable housing and wildfires, among other complaints. But the signature gathering collided last summer with anger about the pandemic, attracting a broader group of Californians who were angry about Newsom’s restrictive approach to curbing the virus.Q: Did Newsom take a more restrictive approach to managing the pandemic than other governors? Why has so much anger been directed at him?A: Definitely. He instituted the country’s first statewide stay-at-home order last March and then another set of regional stay-at-home orders in early December last year — based on intensive care unit capacity in different regions of the state. Earlier, he angered some residents in Orange County by temporarily shutting down beaches that got too crowded. Newsom was also repeatedly sued by advocates for religious freedom because of his early restrictions on church services, and he lost some of those cases at the Supreme Court. The recall has also drawn a broader base of support, in part, because so many business owners believed Newsom’s restrictions were economically crippling and sometimes arbitrary. West Coast school districts have also been slow to open, despite Newsom’s efforts to accelerate reopenings. Newsom became the most visible target for all of that anger.Q: Why was his visit to French Laundry in Napa Valley such a big deal?A: There’s nothing voters hate more than hypocrisy from their leaders. And to his opponents, Newsom looked both hypocritical and elitist when he attended the 50th birthday dinner of a longtime friend, who is a lobbyist, at the Michelin-starred French Laundry last November. At the time, he was urging residents to stay home and avoid social gatherings with people outside their household. To a lot of Californians who were already frustrated with the restrictions, it appeared that Newsom was playing by a different set of rules when he visited the restaurant. He has apologized repeatedly, including during a recent interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper who bluntly asked him: “What were you thinking?” Newsom said, “I haven’t made a mistake like that before or since.”Q: Who’s behind the recall effort?A: The lead proponent of the recall is a retired county sheriff’s office sergeant named Orrin Heatlie, who was joined by 124 others in submitting the petition. His grassroots group, California Patriot Coalition — Recall Governor Newsom, focused heavily on signature gathering and worked closely with another group called Rescue California…Recall Gavin Newsom, which raised a considerable amount of money for the effort. The second group included California GOP heavy-hitters including longtime consultant Anne Dunsmore and former chairman of the California Republican Party Tom Del Beccaro. Both the California State Republican Party and the Republican National Committee made major donations to help the effort. Other top funders include Orange County entrepreneur John Kruger, real estate developer Geoff Palmer and venture capitalist Douglas Leone.Q: What are the key metrics to watch to determine whether the recall will succeed or fail?A: It’s important to remember that Democrats now outnumber Republicans by nearly two-to-one, giving Newsom a built in advantage at the ballot box — if he can get Democrats to turn out and defend him. After the holidays, when anger about the pandemic in California was at a boiling point, about 52% of likely California voters approved of Newsom’s job performance in a poll from Public Policy Institute of California (a dip from 64% last May). But in order for a recall to proceed, 50% of California voters must vote for it. In that poll released in February, only 43% of likely voters disapproved of Newsom and that number may improve as more people get vaccinated and the virus recedes. By comparison, some 7 in 10 voters disapproved of Davis shortly before he was recalled with 55% of the vote.Q: If the recall qualifies, who should we expect to run to replace Newsom?A: There are likely to be more than 100 names on that list — if not hundreds of names — because the requirements for getting on the ballot are not expected to be very difficult to meet. The most prominent Republicans in the mix are Newsom’s former opponent, John H. Cox, whom Newsom defeated by about 24 points in 2018, and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Richard Grenell, the former acting director of national intelligence to former President Donald Trump, also teased a potential run during a recent appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, which could excite Trump voters in California. (Both Cox and Faulconer plan to challenge Newsom when he’s up for reelection in 2022). Given the inexpensive filing fee and the expected low bar for entry, the list could become a pretty wild cast of characters.Q: What is Newsom doing to stop the recall?A: For starters, after largely shrugging it off and focusing on his duties as governor, he’s now pivoted to a more engaged posture — doing a series of press interviews to trying to define his opponents. Democrats launched a new effort — Stop the Republican Recall — the day before signatures were due earlier this week, and Newsom has referred to the recall proponents as “anti-mask and anti-vax extremists” and “pro-Trump forces who want to overturn the last election and have opposed much of what we have done to fight the pandemic.” President Joe Biden opposes the recall, along with many California Democrats in Washington. As Newsom focuses on getting Californians vaccinated in the coming months, expect to see many prominent Golden State Democrats forcefully defending his record as governor as they work to redefine his image. Newsom’s current strategy was encapsulated by his March 15 tweet: “I won’t be distracted by this partisan, Republican recall — but I will fight it.”

Supreme Court conservatives want to topple abortion rights — but can't seem to agree how

The aims of individual justices, based on their recent writings, range from reversing Roe v. Wade to forbidding clinics from challenging restrictions on behalf of women to relaxing the standard that states must meet to limit women’s access to the procedure. “Our abortion jurisprudence has spiraled out of control,” Justice Clarence Thomas has written. He is the court’s most consistent critic of abortion-rights rulings dating to the 1973 Roe v. Wade, which made the procedure legal nationwide. Justice Neil Gorsuch has separately complained that justices’ standards are muddled and said last year, in a “highly politicized and contentious arena … we have lost our way.” Justice Samuel Alito has attacked decades-old precedent that allows physicians and other third parties to sue states over regulations that might impinge on a pregnant woman’s rights. His position would reduce challenges to state abortion laws. New internal tensions in the age-old controversy have emerged, as the six Republican-appointed justices on the right wing diverge on curtailing precedent and more sharply clash with the court’s three remaining Democratic-appointed liberals. The justices could move a step closer to their next chapter as they meet privately on Friday to consider whether to take up Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Then again, the newly reconfigured court may want to wait to take any dramatic action on abortion. Multiple related laws are headed its way as states continue to adopt new prohibitions, including the near-total Arkansas abortion ban passed earlier this month with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. While the number of abortions nationwide has declined over the decades, culturally and religiously fraught state restrictions, and subsequent litigation, have not diminished. Conflicts have deepened on the increasingly conservative Supreme Court. Former President Donald Trump, who named three new justices, had vowed to appoint judges who opposed Roe v. Wade. If the justices were to take up a 15-week abortion ban and consider reversing decades-old precedent, it would intensify national divisions. Even if the justices ultimately deny the Mississippi petition, the case could give individual justices a chance to issue statements relative to the denial, laying out their arguments for future rollbacks of reproductive rights. Mississippi officials have appealed a US appellate court ruling that invalidated the 15-week ban because Supreme Court precedent prevents prohibitions on pre-viability abortions, that is, when the fetus would be unable to live outside the womb. Referring to the high court’s traditional balancing of interests, the appellate court wrote, “Until viability, it is for the woman, not the state, to weigh any risks to maternal health and to consider personal values and beliefs in deciding whether to have an abortion.” The pending case from Mississippi already reveals signs of conflict among the justices: They have considered but then postponed action on the dispute for nearly six months, listing it for discussion in private sessions yet offering no word on whether they would reject it, as they have similar cases of early-pregnancy abortion bans, or schedule the controversy for oral argument and decision. Disputes in this area of the law nearly always come down to the vote of a single justice and generate tensions all around. “In the country, people have very strong feelings,” liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said during oral arguments in a 2020 Louisiana abortion case, “and a lot of people morally think it’s wrong and a lot of people morally think the opposite is wrong.” On the current bench, Justices Thomas, 72, Alito, 70, and Gorsuch, 53, have staked out relatively firm ground. Roberts, 66, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, 56, have voted to ease the legal test covering state regulation of abortion and sent mixed signals on overruling core precedent. The court’s new, sixth conservative, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, 49, has yet to write on an abortion case. Before joining the bench, she expressed skepticism for reproductive rights. During her confirmation hearing in October, then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, declared of Barrett, a committed Catholic, “This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who’s unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology.” Barrett declined in testimony to express her views and said she could not “pre-commit” on the subject of abortion. On the left side of the bench, Justices Breyer, 82, Sonia Sotomayor, 66, and Elena Kagan, 60, have consistently voted to reaffirm abortion rights and diminish the power of states to restrict women’s access to the procedure. In urging the justices to hear Mississippi’s appeal of the lower court ruling, state Attorney General Lynn Fitch has asked the court to clarify its standard, to disallow clinic lawsuits on behalf of women and to erase the dividing line for restrictions based on the viability of the fetus. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, represented by lawyers from the national Center for Reproductive Rights, countered that for nearly 50 years the Supreme Court has said states may not prevent a woman from ending her pregnancy before the fetus would be able to survive outside her body. “Before viability,” they wrote, “the State’s interests, whatever they may be, cannot override a pregnant person’s interests in their liberty and autonomy over their own body.” Where Alito and Thomas want the court to go In the original abortion touchstone, Roe v. Wade, the justices declared that women have a constitutional right to privacy that covers the decision to end a pregnancy. Current standards trace to a 1992 landmark, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, when the court reaffirmed Roe’s declaration that women have a right to abortion before viability, which the justices placed at 23-24 weeks, and forbade government from putting an “undue burden” on the right. Thomas has been most provocative in urging his colleagues to reconsider those decisions. “Roe is grievously wrong for many reasons,” he wrote in a dissenting opinion when the court in 2020 struck down a Louisiana abortion regulation, “but the most fundamental is that its core holding — that the Constitution protects a woman’s right to abort her unborn child — finds no support in the text of the Fourteenth Amendment.” RELATED: Justice Clarence Thomas says Roe decision doesn’t have ‘shred’ of constitutional supportIn separate 2019 cases, he asserted, “From the beginning, birth control and abortion were promoted as means of effectuating eugenics” and called the “undue burden” standard from the 1992 Casey decision “an aberration of constitutional law” and “demonstrably erroneous.” Alito has focused on third-party legal standing, that is, the ability of a party to assert a right on behalf of another with shared interests. He says that creates conflicts of interest between abortion providers and the women who seek their services; abortion-rights advocates counter that clinics are better positioned to vindicate rights than women who are pregnant and may be especially vulnerable to harassment. In the Louisiana controversy over credentialing requirements for physicians who perform abortions, Alito wrote: “The idea that a regulated party can invoke the right of a third party for the purpose of attacking legislation enacted to protect the third party is stunning. Given the apparent conflict of interest, that concept would be rejected out of hand in a case not involving abortion.” Alito was joined in that portion of his opinion by Thomas and Gorsuch. In the same case — June Medical Services v. Russo — Gorsuch wrote that the court owed greater deference to state legislators. He also criticized a balancing test used by a court majority in a 2016 abortion case and invoked by liberals in 2020 as “little more than the judicial version of a hunter’s stew: Throw in anything that looks interesting, stir, and season to taste.” That test, detailed in a 2016 case that struck down a Texas law, requires judges to balance the health benefits that a regulation might offer pregnant women with its potential burden on their right to an abortion. The 2020 Louisiana case involved a physician restriction similar to the Texas measure. Based on the 2016 case, Roberts provided the fifth vote to liberals to invalidate the Louisiana version. But he, like his conservative brethren, found the standard from the 2016 case flawed. (He declined to sign the Breyer opinion that was joined by Sotomayor, Kagan and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.) Roberts’ narrower approach would give greater discretion to state legislators and enhance their ability to justify abortion restrictions. Referring to the 1992 Supreme Court milestone that set out standards, Roberts wrote in the 2020 case, “Nothing about Casey suggested that a weighing of costs and benefits of an abortion regulation was a job for the court.” And the chief justice, no longer the swing vote on abortion yet still influential, added that trying to do so “would require us to act as legislators, not judges.”