(CNSNews.com) - One month after filing a lawsuit in state court, a conservative pro-family group in California is now suing the state in federal court for blocking and deleting thousands of "No New Taxes" e-mail messages.
The Campaign for California Families restored its e-mail service a few days after the state ordered its Internet provider to shut it down. But the group fears problems could arise again, particularly if Gov. Gray Davis and Democrat legislators want to silence its anti-tax message.
The new lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, essentially seeks the same resolution as the suit filed in a state court in January. By suing in federal court, however, the group can obtain a quicker decision.
Randy Thomasson, executive director of the Campaign for California Families, said that is imperative given the current debate about taxes taking place in the state Senate and Assembly. The state court is set to hear the case March 21.
"We need to get a ruling quickly from a judge because the state could, in its arrogance, try to block these e-mails anytime," he said. "They think they have the right, and they don't."
The initial dispute dates back to Jan. 14, when the state's Legislative Data Center blocked more than 22,000 e-mail messages intended for Davis and members of the Senate and Assembly.
To date, more than 725,000 customizable "No New Taxes" e-mails have been sent through the SaveCalifornia.com website. There are a total of 120 legislators in the state plus the governor, meaning about 6,100 people have utilized the service.
Although the lawsuit in state court focuses on California's public records law, the federal suit stresses the First Amendment protections afforded to the group. It alleges that the state engaged in viewpoint discrimination by "censoring, suppressing and restricting protected political speech."
United States Justice Foundation attorney Richard D. Ackerman, who is representing the Campaign for California Families, said the federal lawsuit could set a precedent for similar disputes in the future.
"It would have a national impact because if you don't have any contradictory authority, and the district court issues an opinion, it can be used as authority in all of the 50 states plus the territories," he said.
Neither John Gilles, director of the Legislative Data Center, nor Davis spokeswoman Hillary McLean returned calls seeking comment. Last month, Gilles declined to talk about pending litigation.
Since the January dispute, the Campaign for California Families has expanded its agenda to cover several pro-family issues, including legislative efforts that would benefit homosexuals. Several thousand more Internet users have logged onto the website to send their personalized messages.
State Sen. Tom McClintock, a Republican from Thousand Oaks, said it is disturbing that a worker in the Legislative Data Center has the power to single-handedly cut off communications from constituents to their elected officials.
"The Legislative Data Center needs to be slapped hard," McClintock said. The workers there "need to be slapped by the Legislature, and they need to be slapped by the courts. Otherwise, this will happen again. People in a democracy have a sacred and inherent right to petition their government for a redress of grievances - and that's the right that was denied by some arrogant bureaucrat."
Besides McClintock, Republican Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth of Riverside County has also taken an interest in the case. Hollingsworth introduced a bill last year to include e-mail messages in the public records law, which Davis later signed.
That would be central to the state court lawsuit and not as significant in federal court, Ackerman said. Either way, he said the group wants to resolve the matter as quickly as possible, which is why he is hoping a federal judge issues a temporary restraining order as early as next week.
See Earlier Story:
'No New Taxes' Campaign Hits Snag In Calif. (Jan. 20, 2003)
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