The California Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked a ballot initiative, which proposed splitting California into three separate states, from appearing on the November ballot.
The measure was challenged by the Planning and Conservation League, which argued that the split constituted a "major revision" to the state constitution. Such changes can be placed in front of voters only by the state Legislature or a constitutional convention.
In a brief order, the court stated it was pulling the initiative, "because significant questions have been raised regarding the proposition’s validity, and because we conclude that the potential harm in permitting the measure to remain on the ballot outweighs the potential harm in delaying the proposition to a future election."
“The order is very unusual and dramatic because it takes the opposition off the ballot," said Planning and Conservation League executive director Howard Penn in a statement. "The court has done that sparingly in the past."
The initiative, dubbed "Cal 3" by its author, venture capitalist Timothy Draper, proposed breaking the current state into Northern California (from the Oregon border to Santa Cruz), California (the Central Coast and Los Angeles) and Southern California (the Central Valley, Inland Empire and San Diego). Draper collected nearly double the number of signatures needed to place most ballot measures before voters.
Gaining voter approval in November would have been just the first step in a long road to reality for Draper's idea, with plenty of legal and political hurdles along the way.
Draper's push for the split centered on the promise of a smaller, more responsive state government.
"Whether you agree or not with this initiative, this is not the way democracies are supposed to work," Draper said in Facebook statement responding to the court's move. "This kind of corruption is what happens in third world countries."
Opponents of the measure argued that few changes to the constitution are as significant as splitting up the state.
"We’d have to write three new constitutions, we’d have to rewrite thousands of laws and regulations, new legislatures, new courts, prisons," said Steve Maviglio, spokesman for the group opposing Cal 3. "That would amount to billions and billions of dollars."
The court's order does not rule out the possibility of the measure going before voters in the future.
But the justices were unwilling to allow the initiative, labeled Proposition 9, to go before voters while they determined whether such a change could be placed on the ballot through the usual signature-gathering process.
In a filing last week, Draper told the court that the lawsuit came too late for him to have a "full opportunity to respond," and that the court should consider the challenge after November.
The lawyers challenging Proposition 9 said the justices had enough information on hand to decide whether the measure should be removed.
This post has been updated to include a statement from the initiative's author.