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Monday, October 12, 2009

California's Chief Justice laments the state's increasing reliance on voter initiatives:

"Chickens gained valuable rights in California on the same day that gay men and lesbians lost them..."

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George spoke to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences over the weekend and he had harsh words for his state's money-starved government which has forced the courts to close one day a week and judges to take a voluntary cut in pay. Chief Justice Ronald George, who was appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson, put the blame for what he called California's "dysfunctional" system on the powerful ballot initiative which in California allows voters to repeal acts passed by the legislature and propose and ratify constitutional amendments with a mere majority of votes. These unique procedures (which The Economist has described as the "crack cocaine of democracy") have led to social turmoil on many issues, most recently when the state's highest court, having decided in favor of gay marriage rights, was overruled by the electorate in the vote on Proposition 8. Chief Justice George wrote the majority opinion in the Court's recognition of gay marriage, yet he was also put in the position of ruling favorably on the legality of Prop 8 that reversed his decision. Even though the initiative reversed it, the Court, he argued, had no power to interrupt the initiative process. In his speech before the Academy this past Saturday, George noted ironically that last November the voters passed an initiative to regulate the confinement of fowl in coops at the same time that it passed Prop 8, effectively recognizing rights for chickens even as they rejected them for gays and lesbians.


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