In a somewhat surprising turnaround, the California Supreme Court unshackled the Legislature to place advisory measures on the statewide ballot.

With only one dissent, the Court concluded that advisory measures are well within the Legislature’s authority to investigate and research public policy, and that the State Constitution does not prohibit the placement of advisory questions on the statewide ballot, as long as they are related to a proper use of legislative power. The decision was surprising since in 2014 the Court, by a similar 6 – 1 majority, ordered the measure off the ballot pending further briefing.

The then-Proposition 49 would have asked voters whether Congress should propose an amendment to the US Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on campaign contribution limits. The measure must be re-adopted by the Legislature to appear in 2016 or some future ballot.

At the time, I and others argued that “tossing questions to the voters for nonbinding answers is a terrible practice by elected leaders, and pernicious if taken to its likely conclusion.”

For starters, the Legislature could put popular notions to the public in generic and abstract terms, obtain voter support, and use the resulting “mandate” to roll over legitimate opposition to a legislative measure that necessarily must be more detailed.

A second and more likely abuse of this power would be to place advisory measures on the ballot with a majority vote to help goose turnout of the majority party’s base to support their candidate ticket. This would be the most cynical use of this tool, since it has nothing to do with the policy being debated.

But I’m now persuaded that when it comes to changing ballot and campaign rules, the most powerful force is the law of unintended consequences.

Measures placed on a ballot to drive a policy solution or voter turnout could easily motivate the other side to turn out against policies and candidates. Just ask supporters of Tom Bradley for Governor in 1982, who was foiled in part by voters opposed to a gun control measure; or conservative supporters of the anti-union “paycheck protection” measure in 2012, who saw not only that measure fail, but several tax increases pass and Democrats gain a supermajority in the Legislature.

Ballot measures are blunt tools and expensive to operate. Using them for reasons other than enacting or repealing a law could be hazardous to the user.