California's Political History

In the article “On Amending and Revising the Constitution: The Issues behind the Challenge to Proposition 8,” Joseph Grodin explores the question whether the California Supreme Court should modify the state’s constitution through an initiative measure. This issue arose after the California Supreme Court made a decision concerning the marriages cases, where it upheld the right to contract the same-sex marriage. The initiative measure intended to upend the court’s decision by defining marriage to be a union of a man and a woman (Grodin 1). Modification of the constitution through initiative measure would mean taking away the fundamental rights of an identifiable group of people, as deemed by the state’s Supreme Court. Grodin is of the opinion that if Proposition 8 is upheld, then it is likely that all the marriages (same-sex marriages) conducted before its passage would be invalidated.

Grodin reviews the methods used in California to modify its constitution since 1849. According to Grodin (2), in 1849, the constitution of California provided two methods of modifying its constitution: amendment and revision. The two methods were used until 1911 when the Progressives introduced the initiative measure as an additional method of modifying the constitution. In 1970, the California constitution was amended, giving the legislature the power to propose by a two-thirds vote for an amendment or a revision in both houses. However, in a 1949 case, it had been held that an initiative measure, which resulted into substantial repealing of the constitution by altering at least 15 of the then 25 articles, amounted to a revision, and thus “could not be adopted through the initiative process” (Grodin 2). Grodin also refers to previous cases, such as Raven v. Deukmejian (1990)52 Cal.3d 336 and re Lance w (1985) 37 Cal.3d 87, whereby the courts had to weigh between initiative measure and revisions in arriving at the decisions.

In my opinion, modification of the California constitution concerning marriage cases should be based on the implications of such a modification to other articles of the constitution. If the modification would have substantial effects to more than two-thirds of the articles in the constitution, then a revision of the constitution would be a more appropriate way of undertaking the modification. On the other hand, if the modification would affect just a few articles in the constitution, then an initiative measure would be appropriate. Otherwise, if the modifications would only affect the concerned article (marriages), then an amendment would be a sound option. However, it is important that the supporters of Proposition 8 consider the likely consequences of adopting proposition 8 to the fundamental rights of individuals. They should recognize that the constitution provides that “All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty…” (Grodin 3). Therefore, a revision, an amendment, or an initiative measure should not be used to withdraw the inalienable rights of a specific group of people, whether it is the minority or the majority.

In the book titled Power and Politics in California, DeBow and Syer analyze the political and economic status of California through the Era of Colonization, the Great Depression, to the current situation. According to DeBow and Syer, development in California started in 1848, when James Marshall sported a gold nugget on the banks of the American River (31). Since then, California experienced a huge influx of immigrants including Spanish, Mexicans, Europeans, and Native Americans. Spain tried to colonize California in an effort to secure the huge wealth from what they had termed as ‘empty land’ (DeBow & Syer 31). When Mexicans were able to gain independence from Spanish, they took advantage of the poor administrative strategies of the Spanish colonialists and managed to take control over California from the Spanish. However, in 1846, the US declared war on Mexico, an event that eventually led to handing over of California to the US (DeBow, & Syer 33). This is how California gained independence.

California’s first constitution was issued in 1849. Its contents were heavily borrowed from other states within the US, thus making its constitution similar to the constitutions of other states. DeBow and Syer state that the main emphasis in the California’s constitution is put on the Bill of Rights (33). During the 1860s, the Big Four, the founders of the Central Pacific Railroad, dominated the California’s political and economic life. In mid-1870s, the California economy collapsed, leading to the formation of California’s second constitution, which reduced the political and economical powers of corporations, such as the Central Pacific Railroad (DeBow, & Syer 36). In fact, DeBow and Syer state that the power of the ‘Big Four’ ended in the 1900s when the Progressives entered the California’s political field. This is also the period, during which the constitution of California was drastically modified, which included allowing women the right to vote (DeBow, & Syer 37-39). The economy of California also grew during the Era of Progressivism. However, in 1929, the economic and political developments of California were slowed down again by the Great Depression.

DeBow and Syer provide an insightful review of the economic and political development of the state of California since the early 1800s. In my opinion, California is one of the states in the US, which has gone through major changes since the 1800s, thus making it rich in terms of development history. The fact that Mexicans once controlled California is also fascinating. It is ironical that what is one of the riches states in the US was once under control of a country, such as Mexico (given that Mexican economic and political status is far less than that of California). Besides, the constitutional development of California also makes it unique compared to other states. Having issued its first constitution in 1846, which emphasized on the bill of rights, and later created its second constitution in the same century (mid-1870s) is exceptionally good in terms of historical and political developments.

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