Constitution of California

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Constitution of the State of California
Constitución del Estado de California  (Spanish)
California Constitution 1849 title page.jpg
Proclama al Pueblo de California (1849).jpg
Title pages of the original English (left) and Spanish (right) versions of the 1849 Constitution of California.
JurisdictionState of California
Subordinate toConstitution of the United States
Created13 October 1849; 170 years ago (1849-10-13)
Ratified7 May 1879; 140 years ago (1879-05-07)
LocationCalifornia State Capitol Museum, Sacramento, California
Author(s)Monterey Convention of 1849
Signatories48 delegates
Seal of California.svg
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The Constitution of California (Spanish: Constitución del Estado de California) is the primary organizing law for the U.S. state of California, describing the duties, powers, structures and functions of the government of California. Following cession of the area from Mexico to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican–American War, California's original constitution was drafted in both English and Spanish by delegates elected on August 1, 1849, to represent all communities home to non-indigenous citizens (Mexican citizens resident in California had become U.S. citizens by proclamation, but indigenous residents were not yet U.S. citizens). The delegates wrote and adopted the constitution at the 1849 Constitutional Convention, held beginning on September 3 in Monterey, and voters approved the new constitution on November 13, 1849. Adoption of the "state" constitution actually preceded California's Admission to the Union on September 9, 1850 by almost ten months.[1]

A second constitutional convention, the Sacramento Convention of 1878–79, amended the original document, ratifying the amended constitution on 7 May 1879.[2]

The Constitution of California is one of the longest collections of laws in the world,[3] partially due to provisions enacted during the Progressive Era limiting powers of elected officials, but largely due to additions by California ballot proposition and voter initiatives, which take form as constitutional amendments. Initiatives can be proposed by the governor, legislature, or by popular petition, giving California one of the most flexible legal systems in the world. It is currently the 8th longest constitution in the world.[4]

Many of the individual rights clauses in the state constitution have been construed as protecting rights even broader than the United States Bill of Rights in the Federal Constitution. An example is the case of Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, in which "free speech" rights beyond those addressed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution were found in the California Constitution by the California courts.[5] One of California's most significant prohibitions is against "cruel or unusual punishment," a stronger prohibition than the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment." This caused the California Supreme Court to find Capital Punishment unconstitutional on state Constitutional grounds in the 1972 case of People v. Anderson.


The constitution has undergone numerous changes since its original drafting. It was rewritten from scratch several times before the drafting of the current 1879 constitution, which has itself been amended or revised (see below).[citation needed]

In response to widespread public disgust with the powerful railroads that controlled California's politics and economy at the start of the 20th century, Progressive Era politicians pioneered the concept of aggressively amending the state constitution by initiative in order to remedy perceived evils.[6] From 1911, the height of the U.S. Progressive Era, to 1986, the California Constitution was amended or revised over 500 times.[7]

The constitution gradually became increasingly bloated, leading to abortive efforts towards a third constitutional convention in 1897, 1914, 1919, 1930, 1934 and 1947.[8] By 1962, the constitution had grown to 75,000 words, which at that time was longer than any other state constitution but Louisiana's.[9]

That year, the electorate approved the creation of a California Constitution Revision Commission, which worked on a comprehensive revision of the constitution from 1964 to 1976. The electorate ratified the Commission's revisions in 1966, 1970, 1972, and 1974, but rejected the 1968 revision, whose primary substantive effect would have been to make the state's superintendent of schools into an appointed rather than an elected official.[10] The Commission ultimately removed about 40,000 words from the constitution.[9]


The California Constitution is one of the longest in the world.[3] The length has been attributed to a variety of factors, such as influence of previous Mexican civil law, lack of faith in elected officials and the fact that many initiatives take the form of a constitutional amendment.[11] Several amendments involved the authorization of the creation of state government agencies, including the State Compensation Insurance Fund and the State Bar of California; the purpose of such amendments was to insulate the agencies from being attacked as an unconstitutionally broad exercise of police power or inherent judicial power.[12]

Unlike other state constitutions, the California Constitution strongly protects the corporate existence of cities and counties and grants them broad plenary home rule powers.[13] The Constitution gives charter cities, in particular, supreme authority over municipal affairs, even allowing such cities' local laws to trump state law.[14] By specifically enabling cities to pay counties to perform governmental functions for them, Section 8 of Article XI resulted in the rise of the contract city.[15]

Article 4, section 8(d) defines an "urgency statute" as one "necessary for immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety"; any proposed bill including such a provision includes a "statement of facts constituting the necessity" and a two-thirds majority of each house is required to also separately pass the bill's urgency section.[16]

Many of the individual rights clauses in the state constitution have been construed as protecting rights broader than the Bill of Rights in the federal constitution.[17] Two examples include (1) the Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins case involving an implied right to free speech in private shopping centers, and (2) the first decision in America in 1972 which found the death penalty unconstitutional, California v. Anderson, 6 Cal. 3d 628. This noted that under California's state constitution a stronger protection applies than under the U.S. Constitution's 8th Amendment; the former prohibits punishments that are "cruel or unusual", while the latter only prohibits punishments that are "cruel and unusual". The constitution also confers upon women equality of rights in "entering or pursuing a business, profession, vocation, or employment." This is the earliest state constitutional equal rights provision on record.[18]

Two universities are expressly mentioned in the constitution: the University of California and Stanford University. UC is one of only nine state-run public universities in the United States whose independence from political interference is expressly guaranteed by the state constitution.[19] Since 1900, Stanford has enjoyed the benefit of a constitutional clause shielding Stanford-owned property from taxes as long as it is used for educational purposes.[20]

Amendments and revisions[edit]

The constitution of California distinguishes between constitutional amendments and revisions, the latter of which is considered to be a "substantial change to the entire constitution, rather than ... a less extensive change in one or more of its provisions".[21] Both require passage of a California ballot proposition by voters, but they differ in how they may be proposed. An amendment may be placed on the ballot by either a two-thirds vote in the California State Legislature or signatures equal to 8% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, among the lowest thresholds for similar measures of any U.S. state.[22]

As of 2018, this was 997,139 signatures[23] compared to an estimated 2018 population of 39,557,045.[24] Revisions originally required a constitutional convention but today may be passed with the approval of both two-thirds of the legislature and a majority of voters; while simplified since its beginnings, the revision process is considered more politically charged and difficult to successfully pass than an amendment.[25]

Signatories of the 1849 Constitution[edit]

Signatures of the 1849 California Constitution.

Many of the signatories to the state's original 1849 constitution were themselves prominent in their own right, and are listed below.[26][27] The list is notable for the inclusion of several Californios (California-born, Spanish-speaking residents who were formerly Mexican citizens).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ California Secretary of State -1849 California Constitution Fact Sheet
  2. ^ 1879 California constitution. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Janiskee, Brian; Ken Masugi (2007-07-27). "2". Democracy in California: Politics and Government in the Golden State (2 ed.). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-7425-4836-7.
  4. ^ "California's Constitution is Not the Longest". SCOCAblog. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  5. ^ Linda Greenhouse, "Petitioning Upheld at Shopping Malls: High Court Says States May Order Access to Back Free Speech," The New York Times, 10 June 1980, A1.
  6. ^ Grodin 16–17.
  7. ^ Grodin 21.
  8. ^ Grodin 18–19.
  9. ^ a b Grodin 19.
  10. ^ Grodin 20.
  11. ^ Grodin 14–15.
  12. ^ Grodin 267.
  13. ^ Grodin 170–92.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Grodin 193.
  16. ^ "Article 4 Legislative". California Constitution. California Legislative Counsel. Archived from the original on 1997-01-10. Retrieved 2011-09-23.
  17. ^ Grodin 37.
  18. ^ Leslie W. Gladstone (August 23, 2004). "Equal Rights Amendments: State Provisions" (PDF). CRS Report for Congress. Congressional Research Service – The Library of Congress.
  19. ^ Grodin 156.
  20. ^ Grodin 311.
  21. ^ Lee 1.
  22. ^ Grodin 1, 3.
  23. ^ "How to Qualify an Initiative". Elections & Voter Information. California Secretary of State. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  24. ^ "California: Population estimates". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  25. ^ Lee 7.
  26. ^ Report of the Debates in the Convention of California on the Formation of the State Constitution (PDF). 1850. p. 498. Retrieved July 24, 2017.
  27. ^ "California's Constitution". JoinCalifornia. Retrieved July 24, 2017.


External links[edit]