In November 2016, voters in the state of California passed Proposition 66, the “Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016,” a ballot measure that changed the procedures and limited the time during which death sentences could be appealed, with just 51% of the vote. Another ballot provision, Proposition 62, would have abolished the state’s death penalty but was narrowly defeated with 53% of the vote.
Proposition 66 introduced measures that, among other things:
- Changes procedures governing state court appeals and petitions challenging death penalty convictions and sentences.
- Designates superior court for initial petitions and limits successive petitions.
- Establishes time frame for state court death penalty review.
- Requires appointed attorneys who take noncapital appeals to accept death penalty appeals.
Ron Briggs and John Van De Kamp have challenged the constitutionality of Proposition 66 before the California Supreme Court, seeking injunctive relief to stay its implementation.. Plaintiffs argue that Prop 66 is unconstitutional because it violates the California Constitution’s single subject rule for ballot provisions, improperly interferes with the jurisdiction of appellate courts to hear habeas petitions, violates the separation of powers doctrine by setting deadlines for processing habeas corpus petitions, and violates the equal protection rights of capital defendants by limiting their ability to file successive habeas petitions. On December 20, the California Supreme Court granted the stay.
On March 30, the Brennan Center, along with a group of California law professors specializing in constitutional law––Dean Erwin Chemerinksy, Professor Kathryn Abrams, Professor Rebecca Brown, Professor Devon Carbado, Professor Jennifer Chacón, Professor Sharon Dolovich, Chancellor David L. Faigman, Professor Ian F. Haney López, Professor Karl M. Manheim, Professor Russell Robinson, and Professor Bertrall Ross––filed an amicus curiae brief in support of petitioner. Amici were represented pro bono by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, In its brief, the Brennan Center and co-signatories argue the proposition places unlawful obligations on how and when courts can hear these petitions, violating the separation of powers doctrine. It also argues that the petition strips the California Supreme Court, California Court of Appeals, and other state superior courts of their constitutionally granted original jurisdiction to hear habeas petitions by limiting such petitions to only the superior court that issued the death sentence. Because the provisions of this proposition are non-severable, the Center argues that the proposition must be struck as a whole.