Court Cases Related to the California Legislative Process

California Legislature

By Chris Micheli

There are a number of California appellate court decisions that relate to the legislative process in this state. These cases deal with a number of separate and distinct issues. The following is a brief summary of the major cases of which Capitol insiders should be aware:

Kaufman & Broad Communities v. Performance Plastering (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 26

The appellate court opinion essentially a) clarifies that a determination of the existence of an ambiguity occurs not at the time of a motion for judicial notice, but by the panel of judges hearing the appeal; b) lists cognizable and non-cognizable legislative history for interpreting laws; and, c) acknowledges the propriety of taking judicial notice of enrolled bill reports from a governor’s file. It also lists sources of legislative history that will be considered by courts in trying to ascertain legislative intent. The Court sets forth the form by which it will consider “properly cognizable legislative history”: A motion for judicial notice must be made “with the understanding that the panel ultimately adjudicating the case may determine that the subject statute is ambiguous”; the motion is to identify each separate document for which judicial notice is sought as a separate exhibit; points and authorities are to be submitted citing authority for each exhibit being “cognizable legislative history.”

Yamaha Corp. of America v. State Bd. of Equalization (1998) 19 Cal.4th 1

In general, the deference accorded to an administrative agency’s interpretation of a statute that the agency is charged with enforcing and interpreting varies depending upon a legally informed, common-sense assessment of the statute’s contextual merit. “We conclude that while the particular annotations, relied upon by the Board in this matter, are entitled to less weight than quasi-legislative rules, they nonetheless are entitled to “great weight.” In light of factors indicating that the Board’s interpretation of the controlling statute, as set out in such annotations, is entitled to great weight, and based on our own independent interpretation of the Revenue and Taxation Code section at issue here.”

Association for Retarded Citizens v. Department of Developmental Services (1985) 38 Cal3d 388)

Plaintiffs, a number of organizations and individuals concerned with the condition of developmentally disabled persons, brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief against defendants, the Department of Developmental Services, its director, and another state agency and its secretary, alleging that certain spending directives issued by the Director were void. The court entered an order granting a preliminary injunction, which was affirmed by the appellate court. “Administrative action that is not authorized by, or is inconsistent with, acts of the Legislature is void. Although we give weight to the construction of the Lanterman Act by DDS, we nevertheless conclude that the Priorities are not authorized by the Act, are in fact inconsistent with it, and are therefore void.

Raven v. Deukmejian (1990) 52 Cal.3d 336

At issue was a proposed initiative measure that intended to amend the California Constitution, entitled the “Crime Victims Justice Reform Act,” which purpose was to limit the rights of criminal defendants to those guaranteed by the federal constitution. The court determined that the proposal “would have fundamentally changed and subordinated the constitutional role assumed by the judiciary in the governmental process.” In other words, the amendment would affect a core function of one of the three branches of state government. The court, noting this, decided to order the amendment not to appear on the ballot because it would have amounted to a “revision” of the constitution, not an amendment, which is prohibited by the state Constitution.

People’s Advocate v. Superior Court of Sacramento (California Legislature RPI) (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 316

The Real Parties in Interest moved for judgment on the pleadings, challenging the provisions of the act which regulate the internal rules of the Legislature, the selection of officers and employees, the selection and powers of committees of the houses of the Legislature, and which limit prospectively the content of budget legislation as violative of the California Constitution. The real parties challenged the remaining provisions as not being severable from the invalid provisions. The court found that certain provisions of the act violated the state Constitution. However, the remaining provisions of the act relating to secrecy in legislative proceedings are severable. “What is at issue is not the authority to amend a statute, however adopted, but the power to say what content a future statute may have. The authority to enact statutes which appropriate money for the support of the state government, including the Legislature, is set forth in article IV, section 12 of the California Constitution. It provides for the appropriation of such monies through the adoption of the budget bill. It also provides for special appropriations measures which may be adopted outside of the budget bill process.”

French v. Senate (1905) 146 Cal. 604

A house of the California Legislature “has power to adopt any procedure and to change it at any time and without notice. It cannot tie its own hands by establishing rules which, as a matter of power purely, it cannot at any time change and disregard. Its action in any given case is the only criterion by which to determine the rule of proceeding adopted for that case. In re Collie (1952) 38 Cal.2d 396 Neither house of the Legislature may bind its own hands or those of future Legislatures by adopting rules not capable of change. “It is the general rule that one legislative body cannot limit or restrict its own power or that of subsequent Legislatures and that the act of one Legislature does not bind its successors.”

HJTA v. Bowen (2013) 212 Cal.App.4th 1298

“The narrow but potentially recurring and important question we address in these writ proceedings is whether the California Constitution as amended by the voters in 2010 allows the Legislature to identify blank bills with an assigned number but no substance (so-called “spot bills”) in the budget bill and pass the budget and thereafter add content to the placeholder bills and approve them by a majority vote as urgency legislation. We conclude that spot bills which remain empty of content at the time the budget is passed are not bills that can be identified within the meaning of Article IV, Section 12, Subdivision (e)(2) of the California Constitution and enacted as urgency legislation by a mere majority vote.” As a result, the court confirmed that the Legislature cannot add content to an empty ‘spot bill’ as a means to avoid the two-thirds vote requirement.

Marine Forests Society v. California Coastal Commission (2005) 36 Cal. 4th 1

The Supreme Court of California upheld the constitutionality of the California Coastal Commission under the separation of powers clause of the California Constitution. In doing so, the Court “removed the most serious legal challenge faced by the California Coastal Commission in its three decades as one of the state’s most powerful environmental bodies.” The Court found nothing to support a finding that the structure of the Commission, as brought before them, violated the separation of powers doctrine. The Court evaluated the structure using the appropriate standard: “whether these provisions, viewed from a realistic and practical perspective, operate to defeat or materially impair the executive branch’s exercise of its constitutional function.” In doing so, the Court considered “whether the statutes either (1) improperly intrude upon a core zone of executive authority, impermissibly impeding the Governor . . . in the exercise of his or her executive authority or functions, or (2) retain undue legislative control . . . compromising the ability of the legislative appointees to the Coastal Commission . . . to perform their executive functions independently, without legislative coercion or interference.” The Court found that the current structure of the Commission did no such thing, and is permissible and valid under the state separation of powers doctrine.

California War Veterans for Justice v. Tom Hayden (1986) 176 Cal. App. 3d 984

The appellate court held that jurisdiction over the defendant legislator’s qualifications as an assemblyman belongs exclusively to the Assembly. “Under the California Constitution, as under the federal Constitution and the law of most states, the Legislature has sole jurisdiction to determine the qualifications of its members and the sole right to expel them from membership pursuant to Article IV, Section 5 of the state constitution. For over 100 years the California Supreme Court has consistently held that under the Constitution the courts have no jurisdiction to inquire into the qualifications of the members of the Legislature.”

Howard Jarvis v Padilla (2014)

The petitioner persuaded the California Supreme Court, as a stop-gap measure, to pull Proposition 49 from the November 2014 ballot. Prop. 49 was proposed to be an advisory vote on whether Congress should propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn the controversial campaign finance case titled Citizens United. Thereafter, the Court concluded that the Legislature has the power to investigate the need for legislation and, at least for “questions pertaining to amendments to the federal Constitution,” may exercise that power by placing an advisory measure on the ballot. The decision is limited to advisory votes on amendments to the Constitution. Of interest is Footnote 6, which states, “Because we conclude the investigative power permits advisory questions in connection with potential federal constitutional amendments, we express no opinion about other potential sources of authority for advisory questions.”


Chris Micheli is an attorney and legislative advocate at the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law in its Capital Lawyering Program.


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