University of Southern California

Proposition 9, Marsy’s Law: An Ill-Suited Ballot Initiative and the (Predictably) Unsatisfactory Results

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Note by Ryan S. Appleby
From Volume 86, Number 2 (January, 2013)

On November 4, 2008, California residents voted on twelve statewide ballot initiatives. Seven initiatives were approved, including Proposition 9: the “Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008: Marsy’s Law.” It received the fourth fewest total votes of the twelve ballot initiatives, and was dwarfed in total spending compared to other bills such as Proposition 8, the “California Marriage Protection Act.” Despite passing without significant publicity, Marsy’s Law instituted broad legal reforms. It altered the California Constitution, added two sections to the California Penal Code, and amended two sections of the California Penal Code. The Proposition added a Victims’ Bill of Rights to the California Constitution; expanded the role of victims at every stage of prosecution, conviction and postconviction; modified the process of parole hearings; sought to increase prison sentences; and altered the procedure for parole revocation.

Marsy’s Law was passed via ballot initiative, a form of direct democracy guaranteed by California’s Constitution. The initiative power has existed since 1911, when the California Constitution was amended to provide that “the people reserve to themselves the powers of initiative and referendum.” It was sparked by a backlash against a corrupt legislature bowing to the demands of monopolistic railroad owners. Direct democracy appealed to the populist movement of the early twentieth century and sought to curb corrupt government, reduce the influence of money in politics, and restore democracy for the people.

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