SCOCAblog by the California Constitution Center and the Hastings Law Journal

Master the distinctions between mandamus and mandate

Master the distinctions between mandamus and mandate

 Overview The writ of mandate developed around 150 years ago to allow for judicial action when all else failed. Since then, its evolution has produced confused interpretations of the writ’s essential aspects. This article provides practical guidance for employing mandate and mandamus writs in California: which writ to bring, whether both would be appropriate and desirable, and how to anticipate the fact that a court always retains equitable discretion to deny a petition. This article concludes with a brief survey of structural changes that would do away with administrative mandamus and even the traditional writ of mandate altogether, save for...

The basic structure analysis for initiative amendments

The basic structure analysis for initiative amendments

Overview Although California voters may amend the constitution by initiative, they cannot use the initiative to revise it. This amendment–revision distinction could be an important limit on the electorate’s initiative power. But the California Supreme Court has used this doctrine to invalidate part of an initiative on only two occasions.[1] While the test for determining when an initiative is a revision is well-established, critics argue that it is inconsistently applied.[2] The problem is that the existing doctrine is incomplete: it asks only whether an initiative changed the state constitution’s “basic governmental plan or framework.”[3] Recent cases have clarified that this...

California could have a parliamentary government

California could have a parliamentary government

Overview California can and should adopt a parliamentary system. This article analyzes how a hypothetical initiative measure (Proposition X) that proposes converting the state government to a parliament would interact with the existing political structure and constitutional doctrine, and reaches two primary conclusions: a state parliamentary government would survive constitutional scrutiny, and it would provide overdue political reform to California. Proposition X would survive legal challenges, including the amendment–revision and separation of powers doctrines, and the federal constitution’s guarantee clause. And Proposition X would unlock the benefits of a parliamentary system: empowering minority parties and checking the governor’s power. Analysis...

SCOCA year in review 2020

SCOCA year in review 2020

Overview Let’s first agree that 2020 was terrible: a calamitous presidency, raging wildfires, civil unrest, and a once-in-a-century pandemic. Those combined disasters forced California courts into improvise-and-adapt mode, with the Chief Justice and the Judicial Council exercising emergency powers to keep the courts running. Court appearances shifted to video, trial judges conducted spaced-out-and-masked trials, electronic filings and service became standard procedure, and the California Supreme Court itself held remote argument. The business of the courts and the administration of justice continued. And that difficult evolution mostly happened as things usually do in our state courts: quietly, and with minimal drama....

The Blattner doctrine: resolving nested initiative purposes

The Blattner doctrine: resolving nested initiative purposes

Overview California courts have clarified what subjects the electorate can legislate on, how they may do so, and under what circumstances the legislature can amend initiative statutes. But the courts lack an analysis for divining the electorate’s purpose when an initiative makes changes to an earlier initiative act. This nested initiatives issue recurs frequently, because initiative statutes often amend earlier initiatives, and because most California ballot measures are challenged in court.[1] This article explains how nested initiatives occur, shows why their frequency is likely to increase, and analyzes how one Court of Appeal decision approached nested purposes in Howard Jarvis...

Stop hunting snarks and win elections

Stop hunting snarks and win elections

In the wake of President Trump’s capture of the federal judiciary, and the prospect of an enduring 6–3 conservative majority at the U.S. Supreme Court, liberal voices have proposed several plans to radically revise our system of government. Among these ideas are abolishing the Electoral College, expanding the nation’s high court, and calling a convention to rewrite the federal constitution. All of those options are impractical or undesirable, and creative solutions like this are snark hunts that distract from winning elections. The political process, not judicial intervention, should be the primary means of enacting a policy agenda, because political policy-making...

Opinion Analysis: People v. Liggins (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 55

Opinion Analysis: People v. Liggins (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 55

Overview In August 2020, the Court of Appeal decided People v. Liggins, a criminal case involving a denial of confrontation rights to a defendant in a probation hearing. In ruling that admitting a hearsay statement — under an exception, but without a showing of unavailability or other good cause — violated the probationer’s confrontation right, the opinion departed from the decade-old Court of Appeal precedent established in People v. Stanphill, which held that due process rights are necessarily satisfied if hearsay is admitted under an established exception. And the Stanphill decision appears to conflict with the standard established by the...

Sheriff removal procedures

Sheriff removal procedures

Overview Reforming oversight of California’s sheriffs recently made the news as part of a broader conversation about rethinking law enforcement. In particular, the Los Angeles board of supervisors is considering options to remove Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva. As a charter county, Los Angeles has express constitutional power to amend its charter to provide removal procedures for elected county officers like its sheriff. Charter counties have two primary options for removing their sheriffs: recall by the voters and removal by the county governing body. But because the state constitution requires all sheriffs to be elected, a charter county’s board of...

California and Local Measures on the November Ballot

California and Local Measures on the November Ballot

While the focus in November is on the top of the ticket, Californians will confront a formidable ballot on November 3, 2020. Propositions 15, 19, and 21 will impact California real estate and we include an overview of these propositions below. San Francisco voters have 13 San Francisco propositions to consider in addition to state and federal offices and measures. The local propositions address an array of topics, including governance, affordable housing, taxes, and permits. Some of the key measures impacting San Francisco businesses are summarized below. Except where indicated, the measures require a simple majority vote to pass. California...

Farewell (for now) to the SAT and ACT in UC admissions

Farewell (for now) to the SAT and ACT in UC admissions

Overview In September 2020, an Alameda County judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting University of California undergraduate campuses from accepting SAT or ACT test scores for admissions or financial aid purposes.[1] In a seventeen-page order, Judge Brad Seligman found that the UC’s current “test-optional” policy constituted unlawful discrimination toward persons with disabilities under California’s Education Code and Unruh Civil Rights Act. This article discusses the unique constitutional deference and autonomy the UC system receives, explains why it is still subject to certain legislative regulation, and outlines both the case and possible future developments. Analysis Didn’t the UC system already plan...