California Supreme Court
Ballot proposition rulings
|Year||Proposition or case||Outcome|
|2009||Proposition 64 (2004)||With respect to In re Tobacco II Cases, Prop 64 cannot be used to de-certify a class in this class action lawsuit|
|2009||Proposition 8||Prop 8 declared constitutional|
|2008||Proposition 22||Prop 22 declared unconstitutional|
|2007||Fashion Valley Mall v. NLRB||Leafletters can distribute leaflets in private malls that oppose the mall/mall owners|
|2005||Proposition 77||Overturned lower court ruling that Prop 77 should be removed from ballot because of discrepancy between ballot title issued by California Attorney General and ballot title that appeared on the petitions that were circulated|
|1999||State Senate v. Jones||Struck Prop 24 from the 2000 ballot for violating Single-subject rule.|
|1990||Raven v. Deukmejian||Struck an initiated constitutional amendment from the ballot on the grounds that it amounted to a revision, not an amendment, of the state's constitution|
|1979||Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center||Petitioners can collect signatures in privately-owned malls (See petitioner access).|
|1979||People v. Frierson||Upheld constitutionality of California Proposition 17 (1972)|
|1978||Proposition 13||In Amador Valley v. Board of Equalization, upheld constitutionality of Prop 13|
|1948||McFadden v. Jordan||A constitutional amendment with 208 sections addressing retirement pensions, gambling, taxes, oleomargarine, healing arts, civic centers, senate reapportionment, fish and game, and surface mining was an unconstitutional revision|
The court consists of one Chief Justice and six Associate Justices who are appointed by the Governor of California for 12-year terms. New justices are subject to a retention vote by the public at the next general election after their appointment, and each 12 years thereafter. The electorate has occasionally exercised the power not to retain justices, removing Chief Justice Rose Bird and Associate Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin in 1986.
According to the California Constitution, to be considered for an appointment, a person must be an attorney admitted to practice in California or have served as a judge of a California court for 10 years immediately preceding the appointment.
The court currently sits as a whole (all seven together) when hearing appeals. When there is an open seat on the court, or if a justice recused himself or herself on a given case, justices from the California Courts of Appeal are assigned to join the court for individual cases, on a rotational basis. Prior to the 1960s, the court reviewed the vast majority of appeals in three-judge panels (like the federal Courts of Appeals).
The court has direct mandatory appellate jurisdiction in all California state death penalty cases, although it has sponsored a state constitutional amendment to allow it to assign death penalty appeals to the California Courts of Appeal. It has discretionary jurisdiction over all cases reviewed by the Courts of Appeal.
The Chief Justice
Current Chief Justice Ronald George was appointed as the 27th Chief Justice of California on March 28, 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. He was confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments on May 1, 1991, and took his oath the same day.
On October 10, 2009, in a speech to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, George condemned California's tradition of ballot initiatives. George said that the state's voters have "rendered our state government dysfunctional."
In his speech, George paid particular attention to some aspects of the process that he thinks are particularly dysfunctional. Those are:
- California voters have limited “how elected officials may raise and spend revenue."
- Voters have placed "California’s lawmakers, and the state itself" in "a fiscal straitjacket by a steep two-thirds-vote requirement" for raising taxes.
- He said, "Much of this constitutional and statutory structure has been brought about not by legislative fact-gathering and deliberation, but rather by the approval of voter initiative measures, often funded by special interests. These interests are allowed under the law to pay a bounty to signature-gatherers for each signer. Frequent amendments — coupled with the implicit threat of more in the future — have rendered our state government dysfunctional, at least in times of severe economic decline.”
- George also rebuked the state's voters for approving Proposition 8.
The Supreme Court supervises the lower courts through the Judicial Council of California, and also supervises California's legal profession through the State Bar of California. All lawyer admissions and disbarments are done through recommendations of the State Bar, which are then routinely ratified by the Supreme Court. California's bar is the largest in the U.S. with 200,000 members, of whom 150,000 are actively practicing.
Diversity of justices
The Court partially reflects the ethnic and gender diversity of the state it serves, though not its political diversity. There are two Asian-American justices (Chin and Kennard), one Hispanic justice (Moreno), and no African-American justices. The justices also come from different religious backgrounds (principally Roman-Catholic and Protestant denominations) but avoid public mention of matters of personal religion and ethics. This contrasts with the U.S. Supreme Court whose justices do not shy away from the subject of personal religion.
The Court currently has six Republicans (George, Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, and Corrigan) and one Democrat (Moreno), although most of the Republicans tend to be moderate.
Three justices are female (Kennard, Werdegar, and Corrigan). One justice has a physical disability (Kennard).
Reputation and idiosyncrasies
Just as California has become famous worldwide for its innovations in agriculture, technology, and entertainment, its highest court has become famous for its innovations in jurisprudence. As the Wall Street Journal explained in 1972:
- This state's high court over the past 20 years has won a reputation as perhaps the most innovative of the state judiciaries, setting precedents in areas of criminal justice, civil liberties, racial integration, and consumer protection that heavily influence other states and the federal bench.
Also like the state it serves, the Court has a reputation for being unique in various odd ways. Both the California Supreme Court and all lower California state courts use a different writing style and citation system from the federal courts and many other state courts. The most obvious difference is that California citations always have the year between the names of the parties and the reference to the case reporter, as opposed to the national standard (the Bluebook) of putting the year at the end. For example, the famous case Marvin v. Marvin, which established the standard for non-marital partners' ability to sue for their contributions to the partnership, is rendered Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660 [134 Cal.Rptr. 815, 557 P.2d 106] in California style, while it would be Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660, 557 P.2d 106, 134 Cal. Rptr. 815 (1976), in Bluebook style. The California citation style, however, has always been the norm of common law jurisdictions outside the United States, including England, Canada and Australia.
While the U.S. Supreme Court justices indicate the author of an opinion and who has "joined" the opinion at the start of the opinion, California justices always sign a majority opinion at the end, followed by "WE CONCUR," and then the names of the joining justices. California judges are traditionally not supposed to use certain ungrammatical terms in their opinions, which has led to embarrassing fights between judges and the editor of the state's official reporters. California has abolished the use of certain French and Latin phrases like en banc, certiorari, and mandamus, so California judges and attorneys write "in bank," "review," and "mandate" instead.
Finally, the California Supreme Court has the power to "depublish" opinions by the Courts of Appeal (as opposed to the federal practice of not publishing certain "unpublished" opinions at all in the federal case reporters). This means that even though the opinion has already been published in the official state reporters, it will be binding only upon the parties. Stare decisis does not apply, and any new rules articulated will not be applied in future cases. Similarly, the California Supreme Court has the power to "publish" opinions by the California Courts of Appeal which were initially not published.
- Ronald George (since 1991), Chief Justice (elevated in 1996)
- Marvin Baxter (since 1991), Associate Justice
- Ming Chin (since 1996), Associate Justice
- Carol Corrigan (since 2006), Associate Justice
- Joyce Kennard (since 1989), Associate Justice
- Carlos Moreno (since 2001), Associate Justice
- Kathryn Mickle Werdegar (since 1994), Associate Justice
- Supreme Court Proposes Amendments To Constitution in Death Penalty Appeals
- Los Angeles Times, "California chief justice criticizes initiative process", October 11, 2009
- New York Times, "Top Judge Calls Calif. Government ‘Dysfunctional’", October 10, 2009
- Joann Lublin, "Trailblazing Bench: California High Court Often Points the Way for Judges Elsewhere," Wall Street Journal, 20 July 1972, 1.
- Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1105 (2007).
- Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1115 (2007).