CA Supremes get it wrong on representing the state
November 17th, 2011
The California Supreme Court has weighed in with their opinion as to who can appeal a federal decision in which the State itself is the defendant. Should elected officials which represent the state decide to accept the decision of the federal court rather than appeal, individuals or groups who disagree with the decision of the elected representatives can themselves assume the mantle of “the state” and act as though the electorate had chosen them instead.
In response to the question submitted by the Ninth Circuit, we conclude, for the reasons discussed above, that when the public officials who ordinarily defend a challenged state law or appeal a judgment invalidating the law decline to do so, under article II, section 8 of the California Constitution and the relevant provisions of the Elections Code, the official proponents of a voter-approved initiative measure are authorized to assert the state’s interest in the initiative’s validity, enabling the proponents to defend the constitutionality of the initiative and to appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative.
This is, I believe, an ill conceived decision, and not only because of its impact on Perry v. Schwarzenegger.
In California, initiatives serve a peculiar function. Decades of legislator-crafted districting and closed-structure power building have left the legislature in the control of a small handful of people. It is not infrequent that a large majority of the people of the state have a strong position that is in opposition to that which the oligarchy takes. So, from time to time the electorate will pass some initiative that is intended to serve as a “wake-up” to Sacramento. (1978’s Proposition 13, which limited the extent to which the state could increase spiraling property taxes, is an example.)
But Californians also have an erratic or whimsical approach to initiatives at times. And then we end up with the people placing a ban on eating horse meat.
But whether serious or wacky, initiatives are at times hastily or ignorantly drafted and – if applied literally – could be disastrous to the functioning of the state. So courts step in and toss out extreme provisions and, assuming that the end result addresses the concerns of the voters, the matter is concluded.
But that assumes that responsible parties can weigh the value of appeal, the importance of language, the constitutionality of various proposals and the way in which an initiative impacts other areas of law. And it also assumes that the State, in its official capacity, will conduct itself with honor and present its case based on the constitutions of the nation and the state, legal precedent, honest testimony, and cogent argument. For these purposes, the State of California elects an Attorney General.
But this decision opens the door for extremist wackos – of all political bents – to throw the state into chaos. If a Governor and Attorney General are not entitled to determine which provisions are worth fighting for and which can be conceded, and if we turn that decision over to idealists who believe that every word in their manifesto is of extreme importance, then my state is slated for some very confusing times.
The California Supreme Court, I believe, got caught up in the emotion of Proposition 8 and “the will of the people” and did not carefully consider the bigger question of representation.