McGeorge Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli

Although California’s constitution provides for the amendment of the state constitution, it does not actually define the term. California’s Legislative Counsel defines a constitutional amendment as a resolution proposing a change to the California Constitution. It may be presented by the Legislature or by initiative, and it’s adopted upon voter approval at a state‑wide election.

Note that while there is a legal distinction between amending the constitution and revising the constitution, there is not a definition in our state constitution to distinguish between these two types of modifications. The courts, however, have defined the difference and Article XVIII of the California Constitution sets forth the difference between amending and revising.

In Section 1 of Article XVIII, the Legislature is granted the authority to propose either an amendment or a revision to the constitution. Both proposed amendments and revisions require a vote of the people. If a revision is requested by the Legislature and the voters approve it, then a Constitutional Convention must be convened and, in Section 3, the people are only allowed to amend the constitution not revise it.

In California, there are two methods to propose amendments to the state constitution, either via the Legislature or via the people. For amendments via the Legislature, the Legislature must pass a resolution with the proposed amendment by a two-thirds supermajority vote in both houses and then, to be enacted, the amendment must be approved by a simple majority vote from the people. Note that the Governor does not have a formal role in this process as constitutional amendments passed by the Legislature are not presented to him or her for signature or veto.

The process for the people to propose amendments to the constitution is laid out in Article II, Section 8. The proponents of the amendment must submit a petition to the Secretary of State with the text of the proposed constitutional amendment and signatures from a number of voters equal to eight percent of all the votes cast for governor in the previous gubernatorial election. If this sounds similar to the process to place an initiative statute on the ballot, that is because it is. However, the signature threshold for initiative statutes is lower, only five percent of votes cast for governor, than the threshold for constitutional amendments.

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