What does “separation of powers” mean in the state of California? Similar to the federal government, it essentially means that the powers of government are provided to separate branches of government to operate.

These powers are set forth in the California Constitution and are granted to the three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial. The separation of powers doctrine essentially provides that those who exercise power in one branch of government cannot exercise the powers of the other two branches of government.

While the United States Constitution does not contain any express language dealing with the separation of powers of the federal government, California’s separation of powers doctrine is set forth in Article III, Section 3 of the state constitution. Section 3 provides specifically that the powers of state government are legislative, executive, and judicial. Persons charged with the exercise of one power may not exercise either of the others except as permitted by the state constitution.

Article IV, Section 1 of the California Constitution provides the legislative power of the state is vested in the California Legislature, which consists of the Senate and Assembly, but the people reserve to themselves the powers of initiative and referendum. Thereafter in Article V, Section 1, the state constitution provides the supreme executive power of this state is vested in the governor. The governor shall see that the law is faithfully executed. In Article VI, Section 1 provides that the judicial power of the state is vested in the Supreme Court, courts of appeal, and superior courts, all of which are courts of record. In the California Constitution, the three branches of state government are clearly established, and their roles are specified.

As a result, the separation of powers can be readily ascertained, but the three branches sometimes operate in a manner that may overlap another branch’s role in government. For example, in the legislative process, while the legislature writes and passes the bills, the governor can sign or veto those measures. Once enacted, the courts can validate or invalidate those laws passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. In addition, while the courts generally interpret the laws, so too the executive branch, through its administrative agencies, will interpret the laws and enforce them by adopting regulations. That is exercising their quasi-legislative role to implement the statutes that were enacted by the legislature. When a state agency enforces the statute or gives meaning to the law, it exercises a quasi-judicial role and, therefore, partially overlaps with the judicial branch’s jurisdiction.

You can find the full transcript of today’s podcast here.