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Whether a particular change to a constitution is a revision, or an amendment, is a gray area that has been the subject of litigation.
After Proposition 8 was approved in California in 2008, one of two main lines of reasoning in the various lawsuits filed against it is that it amounted to a revision of the California Constitution, rather than an amendment. Article 18 of the California Constitution says that voters can initiate an amendment. The legal claim was that Proposition 8 amounted to a revision, and revisions can't be accomplished through the ballot initiative process. (The California Supreme Court ruled that Prop 8 was an amendment, not a revision.)
Relevant legal cases
- McFadden v. Jordan, 1948.
- Amador Valley Joint Union High School District v. State Board of Equalization, 1978.
- People v. Frierson, 1979.
- In re Lance W., 1985
- Raven v. Deukmejian, 1990. In this case, the court struck down an initiative that would have barred the state courts from interpreting the state constitution in a more defendant-friendly way than the federal constitution is interpreted, on a wide range of constitutional provisions.
- Adams v. Gunter. This is a 1970 decision of the Florida Supreme Court that struck down an initiative to change Florida's state legislature to a unicameral rather than a bicameral body on the grounds that the initiative was a revision, not an amendment.
In these cases, the initiatives in question were found to be amendments, not unconstitutional revisions.
In McFadden in 1948, the California Supreme Court struck down an initiative as an unconstitutional revision on the grounds that it added 21,000 words to what was then a 55,000-word Constitution. The 1948 court said the initiative was 'revisory rather than amendatory in nature,' because of the 'far reaching and multifarious substance of the measure ...; (p. 332) which dealt with such varied and diverse subjects as retirement pensions, gambling, taxes, oleomargarine, healing arts, civic centers, senate reapportionment, fish and game, and surface mining. We noted that the proposal would have repealed or substantially altered at least 15 of the 25 articles which then comprised the Constitution."
- Volokh Conspiracy, "Is the Proposed California Same-Sex Marriage Ban an Unconstitutional "Revision" by Initiative?", June 23, 2008
- Stephen Bainbridge