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Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly

Abstract

The period from 1849 to 1865 was a tumultuous time for the people of California and for its Supreme Court. Consisting at the time of only three justices, the court was called upon to decide claims that went to the heart of the divisions that wrenched the state, over slavery, land ownership, religion, and race. Some of these were constitutional claims that might today be asserted under the federal Bill of Rights, but at the time (since the Bill of Rights was deemed inapplicable to the states) they were considered under the Declaration of Rights, Article I, of the state Constitution. This article examines the California Supreme Court's early decisions under article I, and finds the justices grappling with issues - such as interpretive methodology and the role of courts in a democratic society - remarkably similar to those which confront our courts today.

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