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Selected Highlights from California’s Constitution

The California Constitution is one of the longest of all fifty states

By Chris Micheli, July 8, 2019 6:03 am

The California Constitution, one of the longest of the fifty states, has 32 articles (even though the last one is numbered 35), and three articles contain subparts (Articles 10, 13 and 19). There are approximately 365 sections contained in those articles. The following is an overview of the specific provisions of the state constitution.

ARTICLE I DECLARATION OF RIGHTS [Sections 1 – 32]

Article 1, dealing with declaration of rights, was adopted in 1879. This article contains the following thirty-two sections:

Section 1 states that all people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights and among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.  

Section 2 provides that every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right.

Section 3 specifies that the people have the right to instruct their representatives, petition government for redress of grievances, and assemble freely to consult for the common good.

Section 4 provides that the free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference are guaranteed and that the Legislature must not make any law respecting an establishment of religion.

Section 5 requires that the military be subordinate to civil power. Also, a standing army may not be maintained in peacetime and soldiers may not be quartered in any house in wartime except as prescribed by law, or in peacetime without the owner’s consent.  

Section 6 specifies that slavery is prohibited and involuntary servitude is prohibited except to punish crime.  

Section 7 provides that a person may not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or denied equal protection of the laws.  

Section 7.5 provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. 

Section 8 prohibits a person from being disqualified from entering or pursuing a business, profession, vocation, or employment because of sex, race, creed, color, or national or ethnic origin.  

Section 9 provides that a bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts may not be passed.

Section 10 specifies that witnesses may not be unreasonably detained. In addition, a person may not be imprisoned in a civil action for debt or tort, or in peacetime for a militia fine.

Section 11 provides that habeas corpus may not be suspended unless required by public safety in cases of rebellion or invasion. 

Section 12 provides that a person must be released on bail by sufficient sureties, except for certain capital crimes or felony offenses.  

Section 13 provides that the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable seizures and searches may not be violated; and a warrant may not issue except on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons and things to be seized.  

Section 14 requires that felonies be prosecuted as provided by law, either by indictment or, after examination and commitment by a magistrate, by information. 

Section 14.1 specifies that, if a felony is prosecuted by indictment, there cannot be a post indictment preliminary hearing.  

Section 15 provides that the defendant in a criminal cause has the right to a speedy public trial, to compel attendance of witnesses in the defendant’s behalf, to have the assistance of counsel for the defendant’s defense, to be personally present with counsel, and to be confronted with the witnesses against the defendant.  

Section 16 states that trial by jury is an inviolate right and shall be secured to all, but in a civil cause three-fourths of the jury may render a verdict.  

Section 17 states that cruel or unusual punishment may not be inflicted or excessive fines imposed.  

Section 18 provides that treason against the State consists only in levying war against it, adhering to its enemies, or giving them aid and comfort.  

Section 19 provides that private property may be taken or damaged for a public use and only when just compensation, ascertained by a jury unless waived, has first been paid to, or into court for, the owner.  

Section 20 states that noncitizens have the same property rights as citizens.  

Section 21 specifies that property owned before marriage or acquired during marriage by gift, will, or inheritance is separate property.  

Section 22 prohibits the right to vote or hold office from being conditioned by a property qualification.  

Section 23 specifies that one or more grand juries shall be drawn and summoned at least once a year in each county. 

Section 24 states that rights guaranteed by this Constitution are not dependent on those guaranteed by the United States Constitution.   

Section 25 provides that the people shall have the right to fish upon and from the public lands of the State and in the waters thereof, with certain exceptions.  

Section 26 states that the provisions of this Constitution are mandatory and prohibitory, unless by express words they are declared to be otherwise.  

Section 27 states that all statutes of this State in effect on February 17, 1972, requiring, authorizing, imposing, or relating to the death penalty are in full force and effect, subject to legislative amendment or repeal by statute, initiative, or referendum.  

Section 28 makes numerous findings and declarations by the People of the State related to criminal activities, victims of crime, and the rights of those victims.

Section 29 states that, in a criminal case, the people of the State of California have the right to due process of law and to a speedy and public trial.  

Section 30 states that this Constitution shall not be construed by the courts to prohibit the joining of criminal cases as prescribed by the Legislature or by the people through the initiative process.  

Section 31 specifies that the State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

Section 32 requires that certain provisions are enacted to enhance public safety, improve rehabilitation, and avoid the release of prisoners by federal court order, notwithstanding anything in this article or any other provision of law including parole consideration and credit earning.

ARTICLE II VOTING, INITIATIVE AND REFERENDUM, AND RECALL [Sections 1 – 20]

Article 2, dealing with voting, initiative and referendum, and recall, was amended by Proposition 14 on the June 9, 1976 ballot. This article contains the following twenty sections: 

Section 1 specifies that all political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their protection, security, and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require. 

Section 2 provides that a United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.  

Section 2.5 specifies that a voter who casts a vote in an election in accordance with the laws of this State shall have that vote counted.  

Section 3 provides that the Legislature defines residence and provides for registration and free elections.  

Section 4 states that the Legislature must prohibit improper practices that affect elections and provide for the disqualification of electors while mentally incompetent or imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony.  

Section 5 provides that a voter-nomination primary election be conducted to select the candidates for congressional and state elective offices in California.  

Section 6 states that all judicial, school, county, and city offices, including the Superintendent of Public Instruction, shall be nonpartisan.  

Section 7 requires that voting be secret.  

Section 8 provides that the initiative is the power of the electors to propose statutes and amendments to the Constitution and to adopt or reject them.  

Section 9 provides that the referendum is the power of the electors to approve or reject statutes or parts of statutes except urgency statutes, statutes calling elections, and statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for usual current expenses of the State.  

Section 10 states that an initiative statute or referendum approved by a majority of votes cast thereon takes effect on the fifth day after the Secretary of State files the statement of the vote for the election at which the measure is voted on, but the measure may provide that it becomes operative after its effective date.  

Section 11 states that initiative and referendum powers may be exercised by the electors of each city or county under procedures that the Legislature shall provide, except for a city having a charter. 

Section 12 states that no amendment to the Constitution, and no statute proposed to the electors by the Legislature or by initiative, that names any individual to hold any office, or names or identifies any private corporation to perform any function or to have any power or duty, may be submitted to the electors or have any effect.  

Section 13 specifies that the recall is the power of the electors to remove an elective officer.  

Section 14 provides that recall of a state officer is initiated by delivering to the Secretary of State a petition alleging reason for recall. Sufficiency of reason is not reviewable. Proponents have 160 days to file signed petitions.   

Section 15 – An election to determine whether to recall an officer and, if appropriate, to elect a successor shall be called by the Governor and held not less than 60 days nor more than 80 days from the date of certification of sufficient signatures.  

Section 16 – The Legislature shall provide for circulation, filing, and certification of petitions, nomination of candidates, and the recall election. 

Section 17 – If recall of the Governor or Secretary of State is initiated, the recall duties of that office shall be performed by the Lieutenant Governor or Controller, respectively.  

Section 18 – A state officer who is not recalled shall be reimbursed by the State for the officer’s recall election expenses legally and personally incurred. 

Section 19 – The Legislature shall provide for recall of local officers.  

Section 20 – Terms of elective offices provided for by this Constitution, other than Members of the Legislature, commence on the Monday after January 1 following election.

ARTICLE III STATE OF CALIFORNIA [Sections 1 – 9]

Article 3, relating to the State of California, was added to the California Constitution by Proposition 6 on the November 7, 1972 ballot. This article contains the following nine sections:

Section 1 specifies that the State of California is an inseparable part of the United States of America, and the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land.  

Section 2 states that the boundaries of the State are those stated in the Constitution of 1849 as modified pursuant to statute and that Sacramento is the capital of California.  

Section 3 provides that the powers of state government are legislative, executive, and judicial and that persons charged with the exercise of one power may not exercise either of the others except as permitted by this Constitution.  

Section 3.5 states that an administrative agency, including an administrative agency created by the Constitution or an initiative statute, does not have power to declare a statute unenforceable or unconstitutional.  

Section 4 provides that salaries of elected state officers may not be reduced during their term of office.  

Section 5 allows suits to be brought against the State in such manner and in such courts as shall be directed by law.  

Section 6 notes that English is the common language of the people of the United States of America and the State of California.

Section 7 specifies that the retirement allowance for any person, all of whose credited service in the Legislators’ Retirement System was rendered or was deemed to have been rendered as an elective officer of the State whose office is provided for by the California Constitution, other than a judge and other than a Member of the Senate or Assembly.  

Section 8 creates the California Citizens Compensation Commission which consists of seven members appointed by the Governor.

Section 9 states that the proceeds from the sale of surplus state property occurring on or after the effective date of this section, and any proceeds from the previous sale of surplus state property that have not been expended or encumbered as of that date, are to be used to pay the principal and interest on bonds issued pursuant to the Economic Recovery Bond Act authorized at the March 2, 2004, statewide primary election.

Next: Articles lV-Vll

Chris Micheli

Chris Micheli is a Principal with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He is also an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law in its Capital Lawyering Program.
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