SAN FRANCISCO - Today in the California Supreme Court, the ACLU of Northern California, the ACLU of Southern California, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, the League of Women Voters of California, the California Teachers Association (CTA), the Children's Advocacy Institute, Coleman Advocates For Children And Youth, and the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case Manduley v. Superior Court, in which the San Diego District Attorney is prosecuting eight teenagers as adults, an act made possible by the passage of Proposition 21, the "Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act," in March 2000.In the brief, the organizations argue that Proposition 21 is unconstitutional because it violates the single-subject rule of the California Constitution. The Court is expected to address this claim, along with constitutional challenges to the individual provision within Proposition 21 that enabled the minor defendants to be tried as adults in criminal court.
"There's a reason for the single-subject rule," said ACLU of Southern California Executive Director Ramona Ripston, "and that is to prevent voter confusion. That's impossible when an initiative takes on as many distinct issues as Proposition 21 did, from overhauling the juvenile justice system, through expanding three strikes laws, to revising laws related to gang violence. Proposition 21 was confusing to voters."
The League of Women Voters of California has twice studied the initiative and referendum process in California and are plaintiffs in a separate lawsuit, League of Women Voters v. Gray Davis, challenging Proposition 21. "While we support the right of citizens to legislate through the initiative process, we also believe that the initiative process has gone far beyond what the reformers who developed it intended," said Barbara Inatsugu, President of the League of Women Voters of California. "Increasingly we see extremely long, complicated measures covering a number of marginally related issues placed on the ballot. Proposition 21 is an example of this and we look to the courts to exercise greater scrutiny in this area to determine whether the existing law is being enforced strictly enough."
The California Teachers Association, which represents more than 300,000 public school teachers, are also participating in the brief. "We are joining the ACLU and other organizations because we are concerned about the future of our children," said Beverly Tucker, Chief Counsel for the California Teachers Association." Proposition 21 will only harm our young people and lead to the victimization of thousands of children who are tried as adults and incarcerated in adult prisons. By prosecuting children as adults we are depriving them of the educational and rehabilitative programs available in the juvenile system. If they are put in adult prisons, we are basically throwing away the key on a whole generation of young people."
A broad array of briefs were also filed on behalf of legal experts, advocacy organizations, lawyers associations, and national organizations. Participating organizations include the Children's Defense Fund, National Council of La Raza, National Urban League, Youth Law Center, Child Welfare League of America the L.A. County Bar Association, San Francisco Bar Association, Beverly Hills Bar Association, and the California Public Defenders Association. For a complete list please contact Stella Richardson at 415-621-2493.
The California Supreme Court has not yet scheduled oral argument in the case but is expected to do so within the next several months. The ACLU amicus brief was co-authored and filed by the law firm of Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin. A copy of the brief is available online at www.aclunc.org.