Category: Analysis

California’s legislature can — and should — meet remotely

California’s legislature can — and should — meet remotely

Overview On March 16, California’s Senate adopted SR-86 (Atkins), which amends that chamber of the state legislature’s standing rules to permit Senate and committee meetings in an emergency where “one or more Senators participate in the meeting remotely by telephone, teleconference, or other electronic means.” It also permits Senators to participate remotely by electronic means to vote during a rollcall vote. While the federal constitution might bar Congress from adopting remote meeting-and-voting rules, no comparable impediments apply to California’s legislature. The state constitution broadly empowers the legislature to adopt rules for its proceedings. And nothing in California law prohibits the...

Mustering the militia is not martial law

Mustering the militia is not martial law

Overview On March 17, Governor Newsom put the California National Guard on alert to assist the state’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This has raised questions about the Guard’s composition, the scope of its authority, and its role — along with concerns about whether the Guard’s activation shows that martial law has taken hold. To be clear: martial law has not been declared, and activating the Guard has little relation to suspending civil authority. Guard call-ups happen frequently in California, and martial law has never been declared in this state. The Guard is being called up to provide disaster...

The Chief Justice’s Order Suspending Jury Trials was Lawful and the Right Call

The Chief Justice’s Order Suspending Jury Trials was Lawful and the Right Call

Overview On March 23, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye issued a statewide order suspending all civil and criminal jury trials for 60 days to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. That order was necessary and proper. As head of the state Judicial Council, the Chief Justice holds the ultimate power to suspend court operations during a crisis. That authority flows from the judiciary’s inherent power of self-preservation, the constitutional provisions governing court administration, and statutes giving the Chief Justice the power to suspend trials when an epidemic strikes. Suspending all jury trials for 60 days is a difficult decision in response...

The Governor’s Powers Under the Emergency Services Act

The Governor’s Powers Under the Emergency Services Act

Overview The Emergency Services Act gives California’s governor broad emergency authority. Typically, the state constitution requires policy decisions (what we should do going forward) to be made through the deliberative legislative process.[1] But in a crisis, that authority (what we should do right now) may be consolidated and exercised by one executive. After declaring an emergency, a governor may disregard statutory law to direct state resources in responding to the crisis. By granting the governor these powers, the state legislature delegated its power to fix public policy and deploy funds during emergencies. This raises some separation of powers concerns that,...

Justice Chin’s legacy

Justice Chin’s legacy

Overview On January 15, 2020, Justice Ming William Chin — the court’s longest-serving sitting member — announced that he will retire in August. His distinguished, 24-year tenure has spanned three chief justices and five governors. Former Governor Pete Wilson, who appointed Justice Chin to the state high court in 1996, praised him as “a model of judicial excellence.” Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye described Justice Chin as a “valuable mentor” and stated “his loss to this court will be incalculable.” In this article we analyze Justice Chin’s contributions to California law and reflect on his remarkable career. Justice Chin has been a...

SCOCA year in review 2019

SCOCA year in review 2019

Overview The effect a majority of four justices appointed by Governor Jerry Brown might have on the California Supreme Court has been a major question in the past few years. After all, the last time four Brown appointees controlled the court it endured its most chaotic period in the last century. With the fourth Brown appointee (Justice Groban) having completed his first year on the court, we examined the court’s opinions from February 2015 to December 2019 for evidence that such times are upon us again. We found little support for a conclusion that another ultra-partisan-liberal Rose Bird era is...

Municipal taxes are (almost) always municipal affairs

Municipal taxes are (almost) always municipal affairs

Overview The California Supreme Court has avoided bright-line rules when analyzing local ordinances under the Article XI, section 5 municipal affairs doctrine.[1] For example, the most recent state high court case on municipal affairs endorsed an interest-balancing approach to determine whether an activity is a matter of local or statewide concern.[2] But while the court disavows a categorical approach, one factor reliably predicts results in municipal affairs decisions: the court rules for the city in nearly every case that concerns local finance, especially taxes. Analysis For this article we reviewed every California Supreme Court municipal affairs case from 1896 to...

The Attorney General’s Supervisory Power: Theory and Reality

The Attorney General’s Supervisory Power: Theory and Reality

Overview This article explains the legal principles involved in the debate about how much responsibility Senator Kamala Harris deserves for criminal convictions that occurred during her tenure as California’s attorney general. The basic answer is: very little.[1] She and her office were uninvolved in the overwhelming majority of individual trial court convictions that occurred during her tenure, because the attorney general has very little practical or legal responsibility for criminal trial matters. And that office has a statutory duty to defend those convictions on appeal, which may sometimes require taking positions that conflict with an attorney general’s personal policy preferences....

Article I, Section 12 — Not Section 28 — Governs Bail in California.

Article I, Section 12 — Not Section 28 — Governs Bail in California.

Overview The California Supreme Court is currently considering how to reconcile the apparent conflict between the California constitution’s two bail provisions: Article I, section 12 and Article I, section 28. Under section 12, bail is an “absolute right” granted to criminal defendants with three narrow exceptions; under section 28, bail is discretionary and public safety is the primary consideration. Because constitutional provisions must be reconciled, the apparent conflict is a false choice: rather than choosing between them, the court is likely to harmonize these sections. When a defendant falls within one of section 12’s narrow exceptions (and so would be...

Municipal taxation is now interesting

Municipal taxation is now interesting

Overview Last week the California Supreme Court decided City and County of San Francisco v. UC Regents (S242835 docket and opinion), and in unanimously ruling for the city the court reshaped the local finance landscape and employed a clear new vision for resolving state–local conflicts. The case involved a mundane matter of whether a city can tax private users of parking lots owned by state universities. The universities argued that, as sovereign state entities, their real property operations could not be taxed by local governments.[1] The city argued that the core municipal taxation power was paramount here, and taxing private...