Friday, July 17, 2020

Legislature of State of California v. Padilla (Cal. Supreme Ct. - July 17, 2020)

I'm generally impressed that the California Supreme Court is so often able to achieve unanimity in difficult opinions.  Even occasionally in cases that I think are close ones.  Particularly in this era of hyperpartisanship, that's impressive.

But then there are opinions like today's.

It's great that it's unanimous.  But it's also essentially a laydown.

There's a law that says that redistricting, which is based on the U.S. census, needs to be performed by X dates.  But due to COVID-19, the census is basically paused, and the formal deadlines set for the census by federal statutes have (thus far) been pushed backed by four months.  Which in turn means that there's no way that the California Redistricting Commission -- which uses the federal census data -- can do its job by the statutory deadlines.

Normally, the Legislature would just pass emergency legislation that extended the deadline.  But we are dealing with an initiative here, which the Legislature can't amend.  So the only way to solve the problem is (1) to put the issue on the ballot -- which couldn't effectively happen in time, or (2) ask the California Supreme Court for relief.

So, not surprisingly, the Legislature does the latter.  "Please extend the deadline four months."  Which the California Supreme Court then unanimously does.

Makes total sense.  Efficient and just solution to a thorny problem.

The only doctrinal complexity is that it's not obviously true that the judiciary has the power to amend a statute.  But Justice Kruger's opinion persuasively argues that rather than strike down a statute, the judiciary has the power to "reform" it in circumstances in which compliance is impossible.  As it is (effectively, anyway) here.

Sometimes it might take a lot of work to establish unanimity.  Here, however:  Not so much.