Commentary: Jerry Brown and his 'canoe'

Attorney General Jerry Brown made noises like a 19th-century states' rights zealot last week in opposing a looming federal court order requiring the state to spend up to $8 billion to improve health care in its much-overcrowded prison system.

As Brown depicted it in his appellate filing opposing the order obtained by federal receiver Clark Kelso, the order violates a federal law barring courts from ordering states to build new prisons as well as constitutional guarantees of state sovereignty.

"In ordering the state to fund the receiver's massive prison construction program, the district court clearly violated federal law, and its decision must be reversed," Brown told the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, adding that the order is "particularly unacceptable at a time when California is facing a $25 billion deficit" and that the state had already acknowledged its prison health care problem and moved vigorously to solve it.

There was a nice bit of irony attached to Brown's effort to block judicial interference in California's prisons – the fact that he's been doing much the same thing vis-a-vis local governments and their land-use decisions.

Last year, after Assembly Bill 32, the state's landmark anti-greenhouse gas law, went into effect, a newly elected Brown took it upon himself to begin suing, or threatening to sue, cities and counties that didn't alter their local housing and land use plans to suit his vision of "elegant density" that would reduce auto traffic and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Brown acted even though the California Air Resources Board had not yet decided how land use would fit into its overall plan for reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, so the only authority was his own assumption. And in fact the CARB plan places little emphasis on housing.

To read the complete column, visit The Sacramento Bee.