Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown puts crime initiative in California Supreme Court’s hands

Gov. Jerry Brown carries notebook paper outlining his proposed 2016-17 state budget after a news conference at the California State Capitol Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif.
Gov. Jerry Brown carries notebook paper outlining his proposed 2016-17 state budget after a news conference at the California State Capitol Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. rbyer@sacbee.com

In an effort to revive his ballot initiative to make certain nonviolent felons eligible for early parole, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday appealed to the California Supreme Court to allow the measure to go forward.

The filing came less than 24 hours after a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled the initiative was improperly filed and barred the state attorney general from issuing ballot language necessary for supporters to start collecting signatures.

The initiative, with sweeping implications for the state’s criminal justice system, was filed last month as an amendment to a measure concerning juvenile justice.

Because the amendment substantially changed the content of the initiative, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shellyanne W.L. Chang ruled, Attorney General Kamala Harris should not have accepted it.

In their appeal, Brown and juvenile justice groups argued Chang’s interpretation of the law was too narrow and that the amendment should be allowed because both the original and amended initiatives deal with similar issues of criminal justice.

Proponents of the initiative have said that if the lower court’s ruling is upheld, they will not have enough time in the election calendar to refile and circulate the initiative for the November ballot.

“Waiting until 2018 to qualify this measure for the ballot is not an option,” Brown said in his appeal. “If the Superior Court’s order stands, the people will have been deprived of their right to use the initiative process to remedy problems that urgently require attention now.”

Waiting until 2018 to qualify this measure for the ballot is not an option.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s appeal to the California Supreme Court

The fourth-term Democrat could try again in 2018. But the electorate that year is likely to be less favorable than in November, with higher turnout in a presidential election typically benefiting Democratic politicians and their causes.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, who filed a letter in support of Brown’s appeal on Thursday, had been scheduled to issue a title and summary for the initiative that day.

Brown asked the Supreme Court to act quickly, saying “each hour that passes without a title and summary” decreases the odds that supporters of the initiative will be able to get enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

In their effort to block the initiative, the California District Attorneys Association and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert argued successfully that Brown’s measure constituted a “completely different and new initiative” that, instead of being filed as an amendment, should go through its own review process, including public comment.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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