While the Supreme Court ponders whether to allow an advisory vote next year on a Citizens United ballot measure, groups are working to qualify two death penalty-related initiatives for that same election.  If either passed, there would likely be a dramatic change in the court’s workload.  They’re competing initiatives — one to eliminate the death penalty and the other to speed it up — and would thus have opposite effects.  Maura Dolan and Marisa Gerber report on them in today’s Los Angeles Times.

One proposed initiative would end the death penalty, convert all existing death sentences to life without parole, and give the Supreme Court the discretion to transfer all pending death penalty appeals and habeas corpus petitions to the Court of Appeal or superior court.  It is similar to an initiative that lost by about four percentage points three years ago.  It would necessarily open up a lot of room on the Supreme Court’s calendar by relieving the court of having to decide the automatic, direct death penalty appeals that take up a substantial portion of the court’s time.

The second proposed initiative, on the other hand, would inundate the Supreme Court with death penalty appeals, likely leaving the court with time for little else.  Among other provisions, the initiative would require that, once the prescribed new system is in place, “the state courts shall complete the state appeal and the initial state habeas corpus review in capital cases” within five years of entry of judgment.  The court recently decided an appeal of an eight-year-old death penalty judgment and next week it will hear argument in an appeal of a six-year-old judgment.  But those appeals moved with unusual speed.  More typical are the three death penalty appeals the court will hear in December — with judgments that were entered 15, 23, and 24 years ago.

It’s possible that neither initiative will qualify for the 2016 ballot, however.  According to the Los Angeles Times article, “The pro-death penalty group said it has raised $1 million so far.  The opposition has raised $350,000.  An estimated $2 million is probably needed to gather the required signatures.”