Waldlaw Blog

Friday, September 09, 2005

Our Governor Needs a Civics Lesson

I have two children in elementary/middle school, and through helping them with homework I've had a chance to remind myself how our government is supposed to run. It seems like Governor Schwarzenegger (please don't make me spell that again any time soon!) is in need of a quick civics lesson, so here goes: In this country, we have what is called a "representative democracy." This means that, instead of the people voting directly for the laws, we vote for representatives who then make the laws. Or at least that's the theory. In California, we have the initiative system in place so we can make laws directly when our legislators either refuse to act in our behalf or act in a way we consider inappropriate. But this was never supposed to replace the basic function of the Legislature, which is to make laws. Let's review the three branches of government, and their functions: the LEGISLATIVE BRANCH is supposed to make the laws; the JUDICIAL BRANCH is supposed to interpret the laws; and the EXECUTIVE BRANCH is supposed to carry out the laws. One of the loudest complaints of conservatives in government is that the judiciary keeps making laws, instead of just interpreting them. We've been reminded repeatedly that making laws is supposed to be the province of elected legislators, not judges. Now, in California, our Legislature has courageously voted for marriage equality, by passing the Civil Marriage and Religious Freedom Protection Act. And all of a sudden, it is inappropriate for legislators to legislate. Well, I'm sorry. The California Legislature just did exactly what they are supposed to do. A bill was introduced; it was debated; thousands of calls and e-mails were received by our legislators encouraging them to vote one way or the other; it was debated more; and ultimately it passed. This is the legislative process. It is a fundamental part of our democracy. Our Governor is dissatisfied with the vote and is insisting that either the courts (remember -- they're the ones who are supposed to interpret the laws, not make them) or the People directly must legalize marriage equality for this change to be valid. Apparently it is inappropriate for the Legislature to try to make laws on this one issue. I would suggest that our Governor would do well to go back and look at the Constitution, and the Separation of Powers Doctrine, and remind himself why we have three distinct branches of government. Then maybe he could be convinced to let our Legislature legislate, and get back to his job of carrying out the laws in the interests of the people.


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