Construing a two-year old change to the initiative qualification process, the Supreme Court today overturns a superior court order that would have prevented an initiative sponsored by Governor Jerry Brown from appearing on this November’s ballot.  In Brown v. Superior Court, the court’s 6-1 opinion by Justice Carol Corrigan holds that the Governor and others properly utilized a new procedure allowing proponents to amend a proposed initiative during a public review period and before the initiative is circulated for signatures.  If it has enough signatures and if the voters approve it, the initiative — as amended — will change the law regarding parole reviews and the transferring of minors to adult criminal court.

Under the new initiative process law, any amendment to a proposed initiative must be “reasonably germane to the theme, purpose, or subject of the initiative measure as originally proposed.”  The superior court — on the writ petition of the California District Attorneys Association — ruled the Governor’s amendments were not “reasonably germane.”  The Supreme Court disagrees, even while acknowledging that the changes “were, in certain respects, quite extensive.”

The court concludes that “[t]he proponents of an initiative measure are captains of the ship when it comes to deciding which provisions to take on board” and that “the Legislature has granted them substantial leeway to make amendments before the measure is presented to the public for signatures.  The statute permits even sweeping changes, so long as they are reasonably germane to the theme, purpose, or subject of the original proposal.”

Justice Ming Chin dissents.  He says the case is about whether the new initiative process “can function as a true reform to achieve its intended purpose, or if it is an empty shell — just another rule that can easily be evaded with a little imagination.”  Justice Chin sees it as the latter.  Under the majority’s approach, he believes, “future initiative proponents can evade the period of public review . . . [by] merely . . . hijack[ing] a vaguely similar measure that was in the process of qualifying.”