California law
California law consists of several levels, including constitutional, statutory, and regulatory law, as well as case law.

Constitutional law

The foremost source of state law is the Constitution of California
California Constitution
The document that establishes and describes the duties, powers, structure and function of the government of the U.S. state of California. The original constitution, adopted in November 1849 in advance of California attaining U.S. statehood in 1850, was superseded by the current constitution, which...

, which like other state constitutions derives its power and legitimacy from the sovereignty of the people
Popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people is the political principle that the legitimacy of the state is created and sustained by the will or consent of its people, who are the source of all political power. It is closely associated with Republicanism and the social contract...

. The California Constitution in turn is subordinate only to the Constitution of the United States, which is the supreme law of the land.


Pursuant to the state constitution, the California State Legislature and the Governor have enacted the California Statutes
California Statutes
California Statutes are the acts of the California State Legislature as approved according to the California Constitution and collated by the Secretary of State of California....

, which in turn have been codified into the 29 California Codes
California Codes
The California Codes are 29 legal codes enacted by the California State Legislature, which together form the general statutory law of the state of California. Due to tradition and inertia, they have never been consolidated into a single unified code, unlike the United States Code or codifications...

. The first four codes, enacted in 1872, were the Civil Code, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Penal Code, and the Political Code (which much later would become the Elections Code). However, these did not constitute a complete codification, and statutes on subject matter inappropriate for the four codes were simply not codified. In 1929, the Legislature finally established the California Code Commission as a permanent government agency (it had previously existed only intermittently on an ad hoc temporary basis), and it spent the next thirty years slowly codifying the rest of the California Statutes. Strangely, although there is a Code of Civil Procedure, there was never a Code of Criminal Procedure; California's law of criminal procedure is codified in Part 2 of the Penal Code. The newest code is the Family Code, which was split off from the Civil Code in 1994.


Pursuant to certain broadly worded statutes, the state executive branch has promulgated an enormous body of regulations, which were codified into the California Administrative Code in the early 1940s. In turn, the CAC was renamed the California Code of Regulations
California Code of Regulations
California Code of Regulations contains the text of the regulations that have been formally adopted by state agencies. They are reviewed, approved, and made available to the public by the California Office of Administrative Law , and are also filed with the Secretary of State.The CCR consists of...

 in 1988 (so that it would not be confused with the enacted statutory codes). Regulations also carry the force of law to the extent they do not conflict with any statutes or the state or federal Constitutions.

The common law

Pursuant to common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 tradition, the courts of California have developed a large body of case law
Case law
In law, case law is the set of reported judicial decisions of selected appellate courts and other courts of first instance which make new interpretations of the law and, therefore, can be cited as precedents in a process known as stare decisis...

 through the decisions
Legal opinion
In law, an opinion is usually a written explanation by a judge or group of judges that accompanies an order or ruling in a case, laying out the rationale and legal principles for the ruling....

 of the Supreme Court of California
Supreme Court of California
The Supreme Court of California is the highest state court in California. It is headquartered in San Francisco and regularly holds sessions in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Its decisions are binding on all other California state courts.-Composition:...

 and the California Courts of Appeal. The state supreme court's decisions are published in official reporter
Law report
Law reports or reporters are series of books that contain judicial opinions from a selection of case law decided by courts. When a particular judicial opinion is referenced, the law report series in which the opinion is printed will determine the case citation format.The term reporter was...

s known as California Reports. The decisions of the Courts of Appeal are published in the California Appellate Reports. Both official reporters are now in their fourth series.

The content of both reporters is compiled and edited by the California Reporter of Decisions. The Reporter maintains a contract with a private publisher (as allowed by Government Code Section 68903) who in turn is responsible for actually publishing and selling the official reporters. The current official publisher is LexisNexis
LexisNexis Group is a company providing computer-assisted legal research services. In 2006 it had the world's largest electronic database for legal and public-records related information...


In addition to the official reporters, published California cases are also printed in two Thomson West
Thomson West
West publishes legal, business, and regulatory information in print, and on electronic services such as Westlaw. Since the late 19th century, West has been one of the most prominent publishers of legal materials in the United States...

 unofficial reporters: the regional Pacific Reporter and the state-specific California Reporter (both now in their third series).

All Supreme Court decisions are published, but less than 10% of Court of Appeal decisions are published. "Unpublished" decisions handed down after 1980 are generally available through the LexisNexis and Westlaw
Westlaw is one of the primary online legal research services for lawyers and legal professionals in the United States and is a part of West. In addition, it provides proprietary database services...

 databases, but are useful only for academic researchers or as an aid in finding relevant published decisions, because unpublished decisions cannot be cited as law to any California court.

Because the state supreme court was extremely overloaded with cases during its first half-century (resulting in the creation of the Courts of Appeal in 1904), a few hundred minor opinions that should have been published simply were not. In response, a small group of lawyers later undertook the tedious task of plowing through the state archives to recover and compile such opinions, which were published in a separate reporter called California Unreported Cases starting in 1913. Despite the reporter's name, those decisions are also citable as precedent, since they would have been published but for the court's severely disorganized condition at the time they were issued.

Non-binding but persuasive treatises

In addition to all of the above, there are also several sources of persuasive authority, which are not binding authority but are useful to lawyers and judges insofar as they help to clarify the current state of the law. The most comprehensive attempts to summarize California law are Bernard Witkin's
Bernard E. Witkin
Bernard E. Witkin is the founder of the California law treatise Witkin's.In 1928, Witkin was an unhappy law student at Boalt Hall who thought that the Socratic method used in law school teaching was not an efficient way to learn the law. He seldom went to class and was in danger of flunking out...

 Summary of California Law, a treatise in 16 volumes, and California Jurisprudence 3d, a 102-volume legal encyclopedia, both published by Thomson West; as well as LexisNexis
LexisNexis Group is a company providing computer-assisted legal research services. In 2006 it had the world's largest electronic database for legal and public-records related information...

 Matthew Bender's California Forms of Practice and Pleading, a looseleaf service
Looseleaf service
A looseleaf service is a type of publication used in legal research which brings together both primary and secondary source materials on a specific field or topic in law...

 which comes in the form of 52 thick binders. The Rutter Group (a West subsidiary) publishes over 20 specialized practice guides, each consisting of two to four looseleaf binders. Witkin's Summary and the Rutter Group guides are frequently cited in contemporary California appellate opinions.

Common law v. civil law

California's legal system is based on common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

. Like all U.S. states except Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

, California has a reception statute
Reception statute
A reception statute is a statutory law adopted as a former British colony becomes independent, by which the new nation adopts pre-independence English law, to the extent not explicitly rejected by the legislative body or constitution of the new nation...

 providing for the "reception" of English law
English law
English law is the legal system of England and Wales, and is the basis of common law legal systems used in most Commonwealth countries and the United States except Louisiana...

. California Civil Code Section 22.2 is as follows: "The common law of England, so far as it is not repugnant to or inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States, or the Constitution or laws of this State, is the rule of decision in all the courts of this State."

All statutes, regulations, and ordinances are theoretically subject to judicial review
Judicial review
Judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. Specific courts with judicial review power must annul the acts of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher authority...

. They can be overturned by any state court of record as unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution or the California Constitution, and can also be declared unconstitutional under the federal Constitution by a federal court.

Unique features

Because California law is enormous, it is necessary to focus only on a few features which are unique to California law, when compared to the laws of its sister states as well as federal law.

California has a powerful tradition of popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people is the political principle that the legitimacy of the state is created and sustained by the will or consent of its people, who are the source of all political power. It is closely associated with Republicanism and the social contract...

, which is reflected in the frequent use of initiatives to amend the state constitution, as well as the former state constitutional requirement (repealed in 1966 and enacted as Government Code Section 100) that all government process shall be styled in the name of "the People of the State of California." (Government Code Section 100 also expressly states that sovereignty resides in the people.) This means that all criminal prosecutions and all enacted laws are done in the name of "the People," rather than "the State" or "the Commonwealth" as in much of the United States. The preambles of the state's two open meeting laws, the Brown Act
Brown Act
The Ralph M. Brown Act, was an act of the California State Legislature, authored by Assemblymember Ralph M. Brown and passed in 1953, that guaranteed the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies....

 and the Bagley-Keane Act
Bagley-Keane Act
The Bagley-Keene Act of 1967, officially known as the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, implements a provision of the California Constitution which declares that "the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny", and explicitly mandates...

, both contain the same sentence: "The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them."

During the state's first century, the California Legislature was rather sloppy in drafting statutes. This has resulted in two bizarre anomalies in California statutory law. First, some acts are designated as "Acts" and others are designated as "Laws," with no coherent distinction between the two. A typical example of this problem is in California consumer law, where an injured consumer may attempt to sue on behalf of all similarly injured consumers under the Unfair Competition Law and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act.

The second oddity is that California is the only state that always precedes a citation to statute subsections with the word "subdivision" (abbreviated in some contexts to "subd."). The reason is that the Legislature often failed to leave gaps in the section numbering in the California codes for future expansion, and then occasionally resorted to the shortsighted technique of appending an alphabetical letter to a section number in order to insert a new section between two existing sections on similar subject matter. For example, the summary judgment statute in California is Section 437c of the Code of Civil Procedure. But alphabetical letters are traditionally used in the U.S. to designate subsections of statutes. To avoid confusion as to whether one is citing section 437c (that is, the section with number 437c) or 437(c) (subsection (c) of the section numbered 437), the "subdivision" prefix must be used when citing any subsection of all California statutes.

The huge concentration of celebrities in Hollywood has resulted in a large number of statutes custom-tailored to the needs of celebrities, such as the California Celebrities Rights Act
California Celebrities Rights Act
The Celebrities Rights Act or Celebrity Rights Act was passed in California in 1985 and it extended the personality rights for a celebrity to 70 years after his or her death. Previously, the 1979 Lugosi v. Universal Pictures decision by the California Supreme Court held that Bela Lugosi's...

. Celebrities' marital problems (and their ability to litigate them thoroughly) have resulted in a very detailed Family Code, a rich corpus of family case law, and a large number of family law specialists officially certified by the State Bar of California. Lee Marvin
Lee Marvin
Lee Marvin was an American film actor. Known for his gravelly voice, white hair and 6' 2" stature, Marvin at first did supporting roles, mostly villains, soldiers and other hardboiled characters, but after winning an Academy Award for Best Actor for his dual roles in Cat Ballou , he landed more...

 and Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds
Barry Lamar Bonds is an American former Major League Baseball outfielder. Bonds played from 1986 to 2007, for the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants. He is the son of former major league All-Star Bobby Bonds...

 are among the celebrities whose marital disputes were litigated before the Supreme Court of California.

Unlike the majority of states, contract law is fully codified in the Civil Code (which even includes details such as a definition of consideration
Consideration is the central concept in the common law of contracts and is required, in most cases, for a contract to be enforceable. Consideration is the price one pays for another's promise. It can take a number of forms: money, property, a promise, the doing of an act, or even refraining from...

). However, the Restatement of Contracts (Second) is also used by California courts. Non-compete clause
Non-compete clause
A non-compete clause , or covenant not to compete , is a term used in contract law under which one party agrees not to pursue a similar profession or trade in competition against another party . As a contract provision, a CNC is bound by traditional contract requirements including the...

s are automatically void except for a small number of exceptions.

Evidence privileges are fully codified in the Evidence Code (meaning if it's not codified it doesn't exist), in contrast to the Federal Rules of Evidence
Federal Rules of Evidence
The is a code of evidence law governing the admission of facts by which parties in the United States federal court system may prove their cases, both civil and criminal. The Rules were enacted in 1975, with subsequent amendments....

, which has allowed a residual exception for continuous development of privileges under the common law.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act
Unruh Civil Rights Act
The Unruh Civil Rights Act is a piece of California legislation that specifically outlaws discrimination based on age, sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation...

 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act
California Fair Employment and Housing Act
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act , codified as Government Code §§12900 - 12996, is a powerful California statute used to fight sexual harassment and other forms of unlawful discrimination in employment and housing.-Scope:...

 are among the most powerful civil rights
Civil rights
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.Civil rights include...

 laws in the United States. Both offer much broader coverage and more generous remedies than their federal equivalents.

The California Environmental Quality Act
California Environmental Quality Act
The California Environmental Quality Act is a California statute passed in 1970, shortly after the United States federal government passed the National Environmental Policy Act , to institute a statewide policy of environmental protection...

 (Public Resources Code Sec. 21000, et seq.) (CEQA) has far more lenient standing requirements than the federal National Environmental Policy Act
National Environmental Policy Act
The National Environmental Policy Act is a United States environmental law that established a U.S. national policy promoting the enhancement of the environment and also established the President's Council on Environmental Quality ....

, with the result that it is much easier for California landowners to sue each other than comparable landowners in other states.

Similar to New York, but unlike most other states and the federal judiciary, nearly all of California civil procedure
Civil procedure
Civil procedure is the body of law that sets out the rules and standards that courts follow when adjudicating civil lawsuits...

 law is located in the Code of Civil Procedure (a statute) rather than in the California Rules of Court (a set of regulations promulgated by the judiciary). Therefore, whenever the Judicial Council of California
Judicial Council of California
The Judicial Council of California is the rule-making arm of the California court system. It was created by an amendment to article VI of the California Constitution in 1926...

 identifies a significant defect in California civil procedure, it must lobby the Legislature and the Governor to change the statutes, rather than merely promulgating a simple rule change. This can be problematic as even noncontroversial technical amendments may be stalled due to unrelated disputes between the Legislature and Governor. A recent example is the California Electronic Discovery Act, which was vetoed in October 2008 (along with many other bills) by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-American former professional bodybuilder, actor, businessman, investor, and politician. Schwarzenegger served as the 38th Governor of California from 2003 until 2011....

 simply as his expression of disgust with the Legislature's inability to fix the state's dysfunctional budget, rather than because of any substantive defect in the bill itself. The Electronic Discovery Act had to be reintroduced in the next legislative session and was finally signed by the Governor on June 29, 2009.

California is renowned for its innovations in tort
A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a wrong that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from a crime, which involves a breach of a duty owed to society in general...

 law, including strict liability
Strict liability
In law, strict liability is a standard for liability which may exist in either a criminal or civil context. A rule specifying strict liability makes a person legally responsible for the damage and loss caused by his or her acts and omissions regardless of culpability...

 for defective products
Product liability
Product liability is the area of law in which manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and others who make products available to the public are held responsible for the injuries those products cause...

, market-share liability, and negligent infliction of emotional distress
Negligent infliction of emotional distress
The tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress is a controversial cause of action, which is available in nearly all U.S. states but is severely constrained and limited in the majority of them. The underlying concept is that one has a legal duty to use reasonable care to avoid causing...


The widespread distribution of Hollywood motion pictures and television shows has given millions of media consumers worldwide some degree of superficial familiarity with California law. For example, the section numbers of the California Penal Code
California Penal Code
The Penal Code of California forms the basis for the application of criminal law in the American state of California. It was originally enacted in 1872 as one of the original four California Codes, and has been substantially amended and revised since then....

 have become familiar to viewers around the world. Section 187 (murder)
187 (murder)
187 is a slang term for the crime of murder; it refers to Section 187 of the California Penal Code, which defines the crime of murder. The number is commonly pronounced by reading the digits separately as "one-eight-seven", or "one-eighty-seven", rather than "one hundred eighty-seven".The number...

 is probably the most well-known.

The California three strikes law
Three strikes law
Three strikes laws)"are statutes enacted by state governments in the United States which require the state courts to hand down a mandatory and extended period of incarceration to persons who have been convicted of a serious criminal offense on three or more separate occasions. These statutes became...

 (codified in the Penal Code) has resulted in severe penalties in some cases and has been somewhat controversial in its application.

California is also unusual in that like Texas and New York, and unlike 47 other states, it has separate subject-specific codes rather than a single code divided into numbered titles.

See also

  • California State Legislature
    California State Legislature
    The California State Legislature is the state legislature of the U.S. state of California. It is a bicameral body consisting of the lower house, the California State Assembly, with 80 members, and the upper house, the California State Senate, with 40 members...

  • Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act
    Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act
    The Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act is the common name of the portion of the California Civil Code beginning with section 1350 which governs condominium, cooperative, and planned unit development communities in California...

  • Van Camp accounting
    Van camp accounting
    Van Camp accounting is one of the two methods California community property law uses to deal with community funds and/or labor is used to enhance the value of separate property....

    , one of two methods for classifying community property in California
  • Pereira accounting
    Pereira accounting
    Pereira accounting is one of the two manners in California community property law that explains how to deal with community funds and/or labor is used to enhance the value of separate property. To calculate, courts will add the original principal amount of the business which is separate property to...

    , the other major method for classifying community property in California

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.