This story is taken from Sacbee / Capitol and California

California chief justice criticizes initiative process


In a speech planned for today, California Chief Justice Ronald M. George laments the ease with which a ballot initiative can be used to amend the California Constitution and says the system has created a "dysfunctional state government."

George notes in prepared remarks to be delivered in Cambridge, Mass., that the same day that California voters approved Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, they approved a law regulating the confinement of barnyard fowl.

"Chickens gained valuable rights in California the same day that gay men and women lost them," George says in the prepared speech, which he will make before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The chief justice has been inducted into the independent policy research group, which was founded in 1780.

George was appointed to the California Supreme Court in 1991 by Pete Wilson, a Republican governor.

After a protracted legal battle, George wrote a majority opinion in May 2008 declaring it unconstitutional in California to bar gays from marrying.

But a year later, George also wrote the majority opinion declaring that California law gave voters the right to use the initiative process in California to amend the constitution to define marriage.

In that opinion, George noted that Proposition 8 opponents had argued it was "too easy" to amend California's constitution. However, he said, the court had no power to "curtail that process."

In his speech, George warns of the "dangers of direct democracy" and the peril to representative democracy that he believes the initiative process has created.

"At a minimum, in order to avoid such a loss, Californians may need to consider some fundamental reform of the voter initiative process," George says.

The speech touches on how relatively easy it is in California, compared with other states, to put a measure on a ballot. George also discusses the unique limits imposed on California's judiciary and the state Legislature to challenge initiatives.

The state chief justice also says: "California's lawmakers, and the state itself, have been placed in a fiscal straitjacket by a steep two-thirds vote requirement � imposed at the ballot box � for raising taxes."

Initiatives that impose financial support for public services and those that limit ways to raise revenue are "often at cross purposes," he says.

Without reform, George warns, "I am concerned we shall continue on a course of dysfunctional state government characterized by a lack of accountability on the part of our office holders as well as the voting public."

Call Susan Ferriss, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1267.