McGeorge Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli

Per Article II, Section 8(d) of the California Constitution, “An initiative measure embracing more than one subject may not be submitted to the electors or have any effect.” Essentially, if an initiative embraces more than one subject, it can neither be submitted to, nor enacted by, the voters.

You may recall that a similar rule exists for bills that have been considered by the California Legislature. The courts have generally interpreted these two rules in a similar manner. The basic guidance that we’ve received from the courts in California is whether the provisions of the initiative are reasonably germane to each other, which is generally a broad test. Germane is usually defined as being relevant to the particular subject. This, again, is a broad definition based upon a relevancy to the main topic of the initiative.

The general idea behind the single subject rule is to ensure that measures are not overly complex or that they do not possibly confuse or hide provisions in a multifaceted ballot measure. Some have argued that the single subject rule also precludes combining popular with unpopular and unrelated provisions in one omnibus measure to increase its chances of passage.

Based on the language contained in Article II, Section 8(d) of the state constitution, if an initiative “embraces more than one subject,” then it can neither be submitted to the voters nor be enacted by the voters. This means that there are essentially two opportunities to challenge an initiative measure based upon that single subject rule, pre and post-election.

The obvious questions posed by the language in the constitution is: What does embracing mean and how is subject defined? Let’s take a look at some case law to see how California’s judicial branch defines those terms.

One is Raven v. Deukmejian, a 1990 California Supreme Court case. It said that an initiative measure does not violate the single subject requirement if, despite varied collateral effects, all of the parts of the ballot measure are “reasonably germane” to each other and to the general purpose or object of the initiative. The court said that the single subject rule does not require a functional interrelationship or interdependence of provisions or a showing that each one of the measures’ several provisions was capable of getting voter approval independently of other provisions.

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