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The California Supreme Court’s decision to temporarily stay a lower court’s ruling and allow Gov. Jerry Brown to proceed with signature-gathering for a ballot measure making some nonviolent felons eligible for early parole may seem defensible if you share Brown’s view — as we do — about the urgent need to relieve prison overcrowding this year via a vote of the public. But given the history of abuses of direct democracy in California, the court’s decision is troubling and his victory is a loss for the state.
Two days before the high court stepped in, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang had blocked signature-gathering on the grounds that Attorney General Kamala Harris broke a 2014 state law when she allowed Brown to radically revise a previously proposed initiative addressing juvenile justice to avoid the time-consuming hassle of launching a new initiative and seeking public comment.
As Chang noted, the 2014 law was specifically intended to prevent the “mischief” that Brown is now pursuing. It’s bad enough that the state Legislature uses “gut and amend” tactics to ram through far-reaching legislation with little scrutiny every September. This gambit shouldn’t be used with ballot measures. The ends don’t justify the means.
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