If a November ballot measure to speed up executions goes into effect, the California Supreme Court will have to decide hundreds of death penalty appeals in rapid succession, the Los Angeles Times reports. That mandate would turn the state’s highest court into what analysts say would be “a death penalty court,” forced for years to devote about 90 percent of its time to capital appeals. Proposition 66, sponsored by prosecutors and passed by 51 percent of voters, gave judicial leaders 1½ years to make new legal rules and then five years to decide a crushing backlog of appeals. “Prop. 66 would require the California Supreme Court to decide virtually nothing but death penalty appeals for at least the next five years — almost no civil cases at all and no criminal cases other than capital murder,” said Jon Eisenberg of the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers.
Legal analysts and four bar associations say the measure would inundate courts with extra work and hit the top court’s seven justices hardest. In a brief, 11 law professors and a nonprofit legal center say Proposition 66 would “grind the wheels of justice to a halt” in California. Death penalty advocates acknowledge the measure would mean extra work for courts, but say it is necessary to fix a system that has produced the nation’s largest death row and no executions in more than a decade. They contend the workload will be tolerable, and that courts will have flexibility in meeting the deadlines. The California Supreme Court is considering whether the measure can go into effect. Two opponents have sued, contending that the measure illegally usurped the powers of the judicial branch and violated a rule that says ballot measures must deal with one subject only.