The ACLU of Southern California does not endorse or oppose candidates for election. But a recall is a different matter, when it’s undertaken, as spelled out in our policies, “because of the official's distinctive record in protecting civil liberties.”

And that’s exactly what’s happening with the recall targeting Governor Gavin Newsom in California, now set for a vote on September 14.

Don’t be fooled by recall proponents who claim the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is the driving issue for reversing the results of the 2018 election. It might be the convenient hook that sponsors of the recall effort have latched on to, but there have been no less than five efforts to recall this governor, including one that came just two months after he took office, long before the pandemic began.

The real, behind-the-scenes motivation for the recall is to wipe out civil liberties advances in California integral to the ACLU’s mission. These include:

  • The state’s policy ensuring that no state and local resources are used to assist federal immigration enforcement, and that our schools, our hospitals, and our courthouses are safe spaces for everyone in our community. This policy has become a model for the nation, and that makes anti-immigration forces hate it all the more.
  • A housing-first approach to houselessness that prioritizes providing housing and supportive services. This effective, humane strategy — promoted by the federal government under no less a conservative as President George W. Bush — has been shown to be not only effectual in dealing with houselessness but also cost efficient.
  • The state-guaranteed right of public school students to information about their sexual and reproductive health that’s medically accurate, inclusive, and unbiased.

To be sure, the state response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a real issue, but not in the way that proponents of the recall falsely claim. Indeed, California’s stances in the face of the pandemic took into consideration civil liberties, which contributed to the ACLU SoCal’s decision to oppose the recall. For example, the state sensibly and safely depopulated prisons to allow for proper social distancing, in accordance with public health guidelines; and it provided first personal protective equipment like masks and hand sanitizer and later vaccinations for those still held behind bars.

Also, in prioritizing housing for people who are experiencing houselessness, the state emphasized public heath experts’ warnings about the heightened risk of COVID-19 infection in shelters. It was guidance central to people’s most basic rights to life and liberty.

All these factors were taken under consideration during a meeting of 40 members of the ACLU SoCal board of directors representing the organization’s membership in our eight-county region. Their vote to oppose the recall was nearly unanimous, easily surpassing the 60% supermajority required by policy, and clearly reflecting the threat posed by the recall to the advances we have secured to make a better California.