Politics

A Lesson for California: Bad Initiatives Make Bad Law

[Los Angeles Times]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Last year’s Proposition 8 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court changed the lives of many same-sex couples and their families in California for the better. But the political fallout from that decision is also having a profound and worrisome effect on the state’s initiative process.

The reason has to do with the nature of the court’s action. The Supreme Court did not rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 itself. Rather, it decided an issue of standing, concluding that the initiative’s backers had not been directly harmed by a lower-court ruling that the law was unconstitutional and that they therefore lacked standing to appeal that ruling. Since the elected officials who did have standing chose not to appeal, the earlier decision stood.

In the wake of the court’s ruling, initiative proponents have begun writing instructions into proposed laws that would allow them to assume the power to act on behalf of the state if elected officials declined to do so.

An initiative having to do with online privacy, for example, authorizes the initiative’s proponents to “act as agents of the people of the state” in the event the state declined to defend it.

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