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Wanted: A New State Bill of Rights

October 12, 2008 |
To get the public debate started, behold a California Bill of Rights, designed to protect everything we hold dear.
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The California Constitution is now more than five times as long as the U.S. Constitution. After a century of amendments and initiatives, it runs more than 150 pages.

California's government is so dysfunctional that the Bay Area Council, a business-backed public policy group, and other good-government types want to call a convention to draw up a new constitution. Good luck! Reforming such a monster is likely to spark resistance from Californians who worry they might lose some of the document's many, many protections, such as tax regulations for nonprofit golfing establishments. So the question becomes: how to reassure the people that they'll retain all the most important rights?

The answer: California should have a simple bill of rights, grounded in our own values. This would be an improvement upon Article I of the state Constitution, a "declaration of rights" that is overly long, with 31 complicated sections. State law does provide a clear and concise "bill of rights," but that covers only car buyers, which shows you the kind of thing we feel is important. To get the public debate started, behold a California Bill of Rights, designed to protect everything we hold dear.

1st Amendment: The Legislature shall make no law respecting an establishment of fixed identity, be it sexual, racial or metaphysical; or abridging the freedom of personal reinvention, or of self-actualization; or of protecting Matthew McConaughey from Malibu beach paparazzi if all he wants to do is surf with his buddies in peace, bro.

2nd Amendment: The free flow of traffic, being necessary to the commerce and security of a free state, the right to turn right on a red light, and to turn left as yellow becomes red, shall not be infringed.

3rd Amendment: No pet, jobless adult child, ex-spouse, significant other or rusty vehicle shall be quartered in any residence, guest house, mother-in-law addition, front yard, garage or driveway of any parent, stepmother, stepfather, ex-spouse, significant other or ex-roommate unless animal shelters, Craigslist, psychiatrists and mediation have failed to resolve the problem.

4th Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, unless the weed turns out to have been medically unnecessary. And no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, unless you're filming a police procedure.

5th Amendment: No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on an indictment of a grand jury or on the say-so of one anonymous law enforcement source who gave an exclusive to Eyewitness News at 11. Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, unless the D.A. and U.S. attorney in that region are old enemies from their days in the Assembly. Nor shall any person be compelled to be a witness against himself, except on reality TV shows, during which any withholding of embarrassing personal details about oneself is punishable by either lethal injection or denial of your Screen Actors Guild card.

6th Amendment: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused should enjoy the right to a slow and televised trial, by an impartial jury, in all jurisdictions save Los Angeles, where you must take what you can get.

7th Amendment: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed $20, the right of trial jury shall be preserved for those who didn't sign nondisclosure agreements and who can afford $1,000 per hour legal bills.

8th Amendment: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted, except if a majority of voters approve such penalties via ballot initiative.

9th Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny very smart people in Silicon Valley the right to develop wireless devices that allow anyone to shred the rights of others.

10th Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by its Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the state, are reserved for a group of dysfunctional partisan hacks who shall live most of the year in Sacramento and for a former bodybuilder who shall be a member of the Kennedy family and shall wonder daily why he wanted the job in the first place.