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The California Constitution and the U.S. Constitution

In Government, what are the differences between the California state Constitution and the United States Constitution?

The United States Constitution vests the federal government with only specific powers. Powers not enumerated in the U.S. Constitution are reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment. This system of federalism is intended to preserve each state’s autonomy, but more importantly to protect individual rights. To that end, the Founding Fathers also spelled out some of our fundamental rights in the Bill of Rights. Among other rights, these specially protected rights include protections against unreasonable searches and seizures of property, a guarantee that private property will not be taken but for a public purpose without just compensation, and an assurance of the right to free speech. Furthermore, the Founding Fathers sought to protect all other natural rights against usurpation by adopting the Ninth Amendment, which provides that the Constitution shall not be construed as disparaging other rights retained by the people.

Unfortunately, the original intentions of the framers have been lost in the modern era. Whereas the U.S. Constitution and The Bill of Rights intended to limit the scope of federal powers, today the federal government holds the power to regulate most aspects of our lives. Still, we are left with the Bill of Rights, which imposes certain limitations on what government may require of us, and how it may impose burdens upon us.

United States Constitutional protections apply to state law by means of the Fourteenth Amendment. As such, California government and its Constitution are prohibited from violating fundamental rights provided by the United States Constitution. Structurally, the United States Constitution including it’s amendments provides citizens basic rights and the California Constitution elaborates with additional protections in ways that the federal Constitution does not. The state of California is afforded the right to provide these additional protections and laws as long as they do not violate the over-arching United States Constitution.

For example, California has adopted specific Constitutional protections against certain forms of taxation. In 1978 the people of California adopted Proposition 13, which capped the maximum amount of an ad valorem tax on private property. The measure was intended to prevent the state and local governments from increasing property taxes, absent approval by a strong majority of impacted property owners. Accordingly, a municipality may only impose additional property taxes on owners in special tax districts where the owners have voted, by a 2/3rds majority, to allow the increased assessments.

California’s initiative process has led to many other changes to the state constitution over the years, all of which affect your rights as a citizen. Importantly when dealing with public entities, Proposition 209 prohibits the state and her political subdivisions from discriminating against, or offering benefits to individuals on the basis of sex, race or ethnicity. This has been interpreted in the courts as prohibiting local and state government from taking these considerations into account when making employment decisions, in public contracting and in education.

Yet even without the initiative process, California courts have understood the state Constitution as providing greater protections for certain rights than the federal constitution. For example, the Federal Constitution does not always protect owners against unintended physical damage to private property, even where the government is clearly responsible. By contrast, courts recognize that the state and her municipalities may incur liability for reasonably foreseeable damages caused to private property during the course of public works projects, even if the damages were unintended.

The bottom line is that the California Constitution provides additional protections for you and your business. If you have questions about Constitutional rights, consider contacting a Constitutional attorney. The Sacramento and Los Angeles Constitutional attorneys at Kassouni Law have experience with an array of constitutional matters. The team is  prepared to give you the counsel you need, and to help you defend your rights in court if necessary. Regardless of whether you contact Kassouni Law, it’s best to speak with an attorney as soon as possible because the law provides a short timeframe for bringing claims against the government in many cases.