As you may have heard, the California Supreme Court determined that Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to prohibit gay marriage, was passed in a manner consistent with the state's constitution. I'm not going to get into my views on the proposition itself - my views on the matter and my dissapointment with my fellow Californians is no secret - rather, I have to say that I am disturbed by the notion that the state constitution can be amended by a simple majority in a public vote.
This disturbs me for a very simple reason - a constitution, whether state or federal, is the basic law for the region of its jurisdiction. All other laws must be subservient to the constitution, requiring that the constitution be a stable document not prone to easy manipulation. In the case of the U.S. constitution, it is necessary for two thirds of the legislature to propose an amendment*, and for three-fourths of the states to ratify the amendment. It's tough, as it should be, but it does allow for flexibility and growth in the law.
Although the dynamics for amending the state's constitution should be different - a state government is a different entity than a federal government after all - it is nonetheless the case that, being the founding law of the state, the constitution should be a tough document to alter. Frankly, I do not think that it should be alterable by popular vote - more on that below - but if it CAN be altered by popular vote, then it SHOULD be a large majority, at least 75%, and not a simple majority. This leaves us open to a wide variety of very bad laws being encoded into our constitution because a well-funded group successfully used scare tactics or other methods to manipulate the populace to vote on a meritless measure.
At any rate, even those who favored Proposition 8's purpose should see that there are some serious problems with a system that allows the foundational law to be changed so easily.
Okay, so as to why I think that amending the constitution should not be left to popular vote...
It's sounds good on the surface. After all, it allows us, collectively, to decide the laws under which we live. But it's really not as simple as that. Take a political issue - immigration, education, science funding, prison policy, and so on - and you will find at least two sides, and usually more, pushing policy positions. If you have the time to really dig in, and you manage to successfully separate propaganda from the actual information, then you will quickly discover that at least one side is full of crap, and often you will find that EVERY side is full of crap. And yet, full of crap or not, voters will flock to the position that best fits with their preconceived notions (and this typically includes even the voters who go with a position that it based in reality - they do so because it fits their previous ideas, not because it makes sense). The reason for this is simple: most of these issues are complex, and none of us, myself included, has the time or energy necessary to investigate every claim.
Which is why we hire (read: vote in) legislators - their job is to investigate these issues, usually with the help of staffers, and make decisions based on the best information available, so that the rest of us can do our own jobs knowing that we have delegated this task to someone. But that's not how it works, of course. Legislators have found that getting re-elected often requires making popular policy decisions, which are often either bad or simply innefective. When there is a tough decision, one that is likely to get a legislator in trouble no matter how they act, well, they can rely on the initiative system to deal with it so that they don't have to take responsibility.
Don't get me wrong, I like the initiative system, in principle. And it has delivered some very good legislation, as well as some very, very bad legislation. But it has become abused, and we, the people of California, have become the micromanagers who do the work of our employees (the legislators - remember, they are not our leaders, they are our employees) and the employees have become lax on their duties as a result.
* Actually, an amendment can also be proposed via a constitutional convention, but this has not been done in U.S. history.