1991 - Present

Criminal Justice: 1991

Los Angeles police officers are caught on video beating motorist Rodney King, drawing world-wide condemnation. An independent commission on the Los Angeles police, headed by Warren Christopher, recommends reforms and that chief Daryl Gates resign.

Federal judge William Orrick judge rules in Blair v. Shanahan that California’s law banning the solicitation of alms violates the federal constitution.

Criminal Justice: 1992

Robert Alton Harris is the first person to be executed in California since 1967.

A jury in Simi Valley finds all four officers charged with crimes related to the beating of Rodney King not guilty of all charges. Riots erupt in Los Angeles lasting 3 days, resulting in 58 deaths, more than 2,300 people injured, and property damage of approximately $800 million. An independent commission, headed by former FBI and CIA Director William Webster, investigating the riots concludes that the police department’s slow response to the violence was attributable “first and foremost to the performance of the chief of police and his command staff.”

Los Angeles voters amend the city charter to adopt the reforms recommended by the Christopher Commission, including limiting a police chief’s tenure and creating a system to track problem officers.

Officers accused of beating Rodney King are tried in federal court for violating King’s civil rights. Two are found guilty.

Religion: 1994

A youth in juvenile detention objects to being forced to attend a religion-based drug rehabilitation program and is sent to isolation; in 1995, he is vindicated by a court-approved settlement ending the mandatory attendance at such religiously-based programs.

LGBT Rights: 1994

Sheila Kuehl elected to represent the Santa Monica, Southwest San Fernando Valley and coastal Ventura county area in the state Assembly, becoming the first openly gay California legislator.

Disability Rights: 1994

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a lower court ruling in Sacramento City Unified School District v. Rachel H. that children with disabilities have the right to be educated in integrated classes and with supplementary aids and services.

Immigrants' Rights: 1994

Federal government begins "Operation Gatekeeper," adding to the infrastructure at the U.S. – Mexico border, including a 30-mile fence, stadium lighting, infrared night scopes, high-powered vehicles, and helicopters. The program results in moving the flow of migrants from the populated San Diego area to more dangerous inland border crossings, contributing to the deaths of thousands of migrants.

Voters pass Proposition 187, which requires state workers to deny services to anyone they know or "reasonably suspect" to be an undocumented alien. In response to lawsuits against the initiative, federal and state judges issue preliminary injunctions barring implementation. The law never goes into effect because Governor Gray Davis, does not pursue the state's defense of the law.


Criminal Justice: 1994

Voters pass the "Three Strikes" initiative mandating a life sentence for any felony committed by a person with two previous convictions for a serious or violent felony. This and other "tough on crime" initiatives, combined with the federal "war on drugs," results in a surge in California’s prison population.

Federal judge Marilyn Hall Patel rules in Fierro v. Gomez that California's gas chamber is "cruel and unusual" punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution and orders the state to shut the gas chamber down. The state changes the method of execution to lethal injection.

Disability Rights: 1995

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules in Dr. Doe v. Attorney General of the United States that people with AIDS are protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Religion: 1995

Sikh children who had been suspended from their Livingston elementary school for wearing a kirpan, a small, wrapped and concealed knife that is one of the sacred symbols of their religion, win the right to go back to school, a victory based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

World War II Incarceration: 1996

Mochizuki v. United States is filed on behalf of Japanese Latin Americans who were abducted from their home countries yet denied redress under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. 

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