California Supreme Court chief justice criticizes voter initiative process

[JURIST] California Supreme Court [official website] Chief Justice Ronald George [official profile] on Saturday criticized [transcript] California's voter initiative process, which gives Californians the right to initiate or make new laws via the ballot box. In a speech to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences [professional association website], George said the process, which effectively allows voters to bypass the legislative process, has made the state government dysfunctional. In his comments on the initiative process, George said:


One Bar leader has observed: "California's current constitution rivals India's for being the longest and most convoluted in the world.... [W]ith the cumulative dross of past voter initiatives incorporated, [it] is a document that assures chaos." Initiatives have enshrined a myriad of provisions into California's constitutional charter, including a prohibition on the use of gill nets and a measure regulating the confinement of barnyard fowl in coops. This last constitutional amendment was enacted on the same 2008 ballot that amended the state Constitution to override the California Supreme Court's decision recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry. Chickens gained valuable rights in California on the same day that gay men and lesbians lost them.

George also stressed the need for fundamental reforms to the voter initiative process in order to create function and accountability at the state government level.

George's references to the right of same-sex couples to marry relate to Proposition 8 [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], which amended the California Constitution [text] to prohibit same-sex marriage. In May, the California Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that constitutional challenges to Proposition 8 lacked merit and that the amendment stands as lawful. Proposition 8, approved by voters [JURIST report] last November, was a response to the California Supreme Court's decision last year striking down [JURIST report] a statutory ban on same-sex marriage as violating the equal protection and privacy provisions of the state constitution. The voter initiative became a focal point for gay rights, prompting donors from across the US and several foreign countries to contribute $83 million in total for both sides of the issue, setting US fundraising records [JURIST report].


 

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