Author: California Constitution Center

Postcard From The Ninth Circuit: “Please Help”

Postcard From The Ninth Circuit: “Please Help”

This week an LA Times article described a recurring problem in the relationship between SCOCA and the Ninth Circuit. The issue concerns the brevity of SCOCA orders denying state habeas petitions. When those cases reach the Ninth Circuit, that court must determine the basis for the SCOCA ruling: specifically, whether the petition was denied as untimely. According to the article, SCOCA decides most such petitions “with one-paragraph summary rulings that frustrate federal judges who later are asked to review them.” The issue stems from the SCOTUS decision in Harrington v. Richter (2011) 562 U.S. 86, holding that the prohibition in...

Vergara: Teacher Tenure Is Not Necessarily an Equal Protection Issue

Vergara: Teacher Tenure Is Not Necessarily an Equal Protection Issue

This week a petition for review was filed in Vergara v. State of California (S234741), potentially setting the stage for SCOCA to settle the great matter pending in education law today. The issue in that case is framed as whether teacher tenure violates students’ right to an effective education. As we explain below, that is not the real question, and teacher tenure is only one factor in evaluating an education right claim based on equal protection. The California constitution protects an individual right to an education. As our colleague Anne Gordon explained in her article, California Constitutional Law: The Right...

What if SCOCA Decided to Fund the State Bar with Judicial Branch Fees?

What if SCOCA Decided to Fund the State Bar with Judicial Branch Fees?

In this article we consider a simple separation of powers issue with serious implications: Can the California judicial branch fund the State Bar of California by imposing fees on practitioners?[1] We think this is a problem in two stages. The first question (whether the judiciary can impose such fees) raises one sort of separation of powers issue, and the second (the likely consequences) requires a different analysis. Background The state bar was created by statute in 1927. It received constitutional entity status in 1966, when article 6, section 9 of the California constitution was added: “The State Bar of California is...

U.S. Senate: Be Afraid of State Supreme Courts

U.S. Senate: Be Afraid of State Supreme Courts

President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, for appointment as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Senators who are at all familiar with the system of dual sovereignty created by the U.S. Constitution will move quickly to act on that nomination, because without a full bench the nation’s high court is severely limited in its ability to prevent state supreme court decisions from being the final word. So to all the Federalists in the chamber: fear the state supreme courts. Because unless you act on this...

Advisory Measures and the Legislature’s Power to Investigate

Advisory Measures and the Legislature’s Power to Investigate

In a recent decision, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. v. Padilla, the California Supreme Court considered the validity of Proposition 49, which would have asked the electorate whether Congress should propose, and the legislature ratify, a federal constitutional amendment overturning the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm. (2010). The court held that the legislature’s investigative power permits it to place advisory measures on the ballot for the electorate’s consideration. For what it’s worth, we concur. The court’s order that the measure be taken off the ballot seemed dramatic enough, as the general rule is that the...

California Gets an “F” Grade in Judicial Accountability, and We Have Questions

California Gets an “F” Grade in Judicial Accountability, and We Have Questions

The Center for Public Integrity (“CPI”) conducts periodic evaluations of all three branches of government in each state.[1] In the CPI’s just-published report on California, the state judiciary received an F grade. This is a significant drop from the C-minus California received in 2012, the last time the CPI evaluated the state. But the last three years have seen significant advancements in judicial transparency, as the state judiciary has broadened public access to the branch’s records and the state’s counties have continued to expand online access to court records.[2] So how have things gone from “not great” to “failing” in...

Petitions for Review: A Long-Odds Gambit

Petitions for Review: A Long-Odds Gambit

Here we review and analyze the grant rate data for SCOCA review petitions. Our conclusion is that, on average, any given petition has a 4% chance of being granted. The Court’s Role in the California Judiciary We begin with context. The Supreme Court of California is the state’s highest court, and its primary role is to resolve the big questions, settle appellate court splits, and ensure uniformity in the law. California Rules of Court, Rule 8.500(b)(1). Granted, capital cases (discussed below) are an exception to this, but the fact remains that in the majority of the cases SCOCA hears, the...

Governor Jerry Brown 2.0:  Judicial Appointments, Now New And Improved

Governor Jerry Brown 2.0:  Judicial Appointments, Now New And Improved

In this article we evaluate two points held by today’s conventional wisdom.  One posits that Jerry Brown has, in his second stint as governor, been slow to fill judicial vacancies, and that there is an unusually high number of open judicial seats.  The other is a suspicion that the judicial appointments by Governor Brown version 2.0 will be in the style of Governor Brown version 1.0.  Our evaluation is that both theories are empirically less than true. (Recognizing that the first Governor Brown was Jerry Brown’s father Pat Brown, for convenience we will ignore that fact.) To the first point about...

The role of a state high court at the intersection of federalism and state sovereignty

The role of a state high court at the intersection of federalism and state sovereignty

The Alabama Supreme Court was in the news recently, after it ordered a halt to same-sex marriage licensing in that state. It became the first state high court in the nation to challenge a federal court order to permit same-sex marriage in its state. Such an action by a state high court raises issues of state sovereignty and federalism. This country has a federal system, in which states as sovereign political entities joined together in a system of collective government and ceded some sovereignty to a uniting central government, while retaining a great measure of self-governance. Federalism describes the principles...

SCOCA Chambers Staff:  Annual Clerks or Staff Attorneys – or Both?

SCOCA Chambers Staff: Annual Clerks or Staff Attorneys – or Both?

We revisit a conversation of ancient vintage about the relative merits of judicial staff attorneys versus annual law clerks in the chambers of California Supreme Court justices. The staff attorneys are long-term professionals, while the annual law clerks are typically recent law school graduates who serve just a year or so (thus the name). This is distinct from the related debate about the role these attorneys play in the court’s decisionmaking process. That discussion is for another day – today we only compare staff attorneys and annual clerks. This conversation has been going on for many years – most recently...