Oakland Anti-Nuclear Ordinance Ruled Unconstitutional
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Oakland’s 1988 ″nuclear-free″ initiative, one of the nation’s broadest local bans on nuclear weapons-related activities, was declared unconstitutional Friday by a federal judge.
The ordinance forbids most city contracting, purchases and investments with nuclear weapons manufacturers, restricts transportation of nuclear material through the city and outlaws most nuclear weapons work in the city.
The federal government’s lawsuit last September, the first it has filed against any of the more than 160 local nuclear-free laws in the country, said the Oakland ordinance interfered with exclusive federal control of national defense, atomic energy and shipments of hazardous materials.
U.S. District Judge John Vukasin agreed with the government’s arguments in a brief ruling from the bench Friday. Earlier, Vukasin had refused to let city officials or anti-nuclear groups examine federal officials or documents to determine the extent of possible interference with government operations.
″The Oakland ordinance is so comprehensive, so complete, so all- encompassing that it is invalid on its face,″ the judge said. ″(It) cannot help but conflict with the rights of the federal government.″
The ruling is a potentially serious blow to a spreading campaign by anti- nuclear activists to put teeth into previously symbolic nuclear-free ordinances, chiefly by limiting local government purchases and investments.
A similar measure is on the June ballot in Alameda County, home of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, where many of the nation’s nuclear weapons are designed.
City Councilman Wilson Riles Jr., a supporter of the Oakland ordinance, predicted that most of it would be revived by a higher court.
″A lot of the things Oakland is trying to do with respect to protecting the health and welfare of its citizens have long standing in the law,″ Riles said. He said ordinances imposing similar restrictions on South Africa-related purchases and investments have been upheld in court.
Steve Bloom, principal draftsman of the ordinance and coordinator of a group called Nuclear-Free California, said the decision was ″the kind of ruling Vukasin was appointed (by former President Ronald Reagan) to make, not based on law but based on political expediency.″
Vukasin said he would issue a written decision later. It was not clear whether his ruling extended to portions of the ordinance that do not involve the government directly, such as a ban on city purchases of products made by companies engaged in nuclear weapons work.
But the government’s suit argued that enforcement of the ordinance against its private contractors would also harm the national defense.
″Private contractors are relied on a great deal by the United States top carry out the national defense,″ Justice Department lawyer Richard Stearns told Vukasin. He said any effort by the city to ″punish contractors by denying them business with the city″ would harm the government as well.
The only provisions expressly exempted from the ruling allow the city to limit its investments in government securities and post ″nuclear-free-z one″ signs at its borders. Those provisions were not challenged by the government.
The Oakland ordinance, approved by a 57 percent vote in November 1988, declared that all ″nuclear weapons work,″ including production, storage or classified research on nuclear weapons, would be outlawed within two years in the city of 350,000.
It also prohibited all city contracts and investments with nuclear weapons- makers, unless no reasonable alternatives existed, and authorized the City Council to choose the safest routes for shipment of radioactive material.