The California Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Gov. Jerry Brown can continue pursuing a plan to reduce the state’s prison inmate population by releasing certain nonviolent felons early while it considers a legal challenge.
The high court’s brief order means Brown’s supporters can gather signatures to qualify a measure for the November ballot while the court decides whether the governor made improper, late additions to a juvenile justice proposition.
A Sacramento County judge halted the qualifying process last month after the California District Attorneys Association filed a lawsuit challenging the late additions. The judge ruled that Brown’s additions substantially changed the proposed ballot language after it had gone through a public comment period.
But the Supreme Court ruled last week that the qualifying process can continue while the lawsuit is being decided. It reaffirmed that position Wednesday while putting the onus on the prosecutors to show the governor’s changes were improper, rather than having Brown defend the additions.
The high court didn’t rule on the lawsuit’s merits Wednesday, giving both sides until the end of the month to submit written legal arguments.
The proposed measure was filed with the attorney general’s office in December as an attempt to transfer the power of deciding whether to prosecute juveniles as adults from prosecutors to judges. After the 30-day public comment period on the proposed ballot measure expired, Brown added language that would allow certain nonviolent adult felons to earn parole earlier while qualifying others for earlier releases from prison.
The prosecutors say the additions are an end run around the public comment provision and that they intend to continue their legal fight.
“We believe when this court looks at all the information they will agree with the lower court and rule decidedly in our favor,” California District Attorneys Association chief executive Mark Zahner said in a statement.
A governor’s spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
California is under court order to ease overcrowding in its prisons.