If Proposition 9, a ballot measure that seeks to break California into three new states, is passed by voters in November, it would throw the entire state into upheaval and uncertainty for months, if not years, during which the battle over the state’s fate would continue in the courts and in Congress.
Residents would have to live with the reality that one day they could wake up in a new political entity, where all the familiar laws, protections and public resources on which they relied had been dissolved. Businesses might reasonably choose to relocate to states not undergoing an existential crisis. Creditors would surely be wary of lending money to a state that might not exist in the immediate future. Years of fighting would ensue over how to split the state’s shared assets.
But a group of environmentalists argues that the state shouldn’t have to go through all that turmoil because the measure should never have qualified for the ballot in the first place. The group filed a lawsuit Monday asking the California Supreme Court to remove Proposition 9 on the grounds that a citizen initiative cannot be used to invalidate the state Constitution.
The state’s high court should waste no time taking up the issue. Ideally, the court would settle the matter before Aug. 13, the day that the November ballot goes to the printer. This measure is too momentous, and potentially destructive, to allow any questions about its constitutionality to linger.
If what opponents say is true, the arguments for dividing the state are irrelevant because the measure should never have been placed on the ballot. In an oped in The Times, UC Irvine law professor Richard L. Hasen explained that the California Supreme Court has long held that citizen initiatives may not change the state Constitution in ways that substantially alter the structure of state government. Demolishing the state government would be considered a substantial alteration by any reasonable standard. Under those precedents, any serious revision requires a constitutional convention called by a supermajority of both houses of the Legislature.
What does the main backer of the proposal have to say to defend it all from this legal attack? We don’t know. Neither he nor his campaign has responded to requests for comment. But if he wants to keep his measure on the ballot, he can explain it to the court.