The Difference Between ''Merit System'' and ''Merit Principle''
In Pacific Legal Foundation v. Brown (1981), the court addressed the distinction between the terms " 'merit principle' " and " 'merit system.' " (Brown, supra, 29 Cal. 3d at p. 184, fn. 7.)
The former was the concept of recruiting, selecting, and promoting public employees under conditions of political neutrality, equal opportunity, and competition based on merit. "Merit system" referred to the larger system of personnel management. (Ibid.)
In Brown, the petitioners argued that since the Constitution used the term " 'general system based on merit,' " that the "merit system" as well as the "merit principle" was embodied in the constitutional provision. (Ibid.) the court disagreed.
Although the terms had distinct meanings among knowledgeable experts in the field, there was no evidence the draftsmen of the 1934 provision understood this distinction.
The court found the Constitution required only the merit principle, not a particular system. "We think that the 1934 ballot argument makes it quite plain that the draftsmen of the provision intended only 'to prohibit appointment and promotion in State service except on the basis of merit,' and did not intend to engrave into the state Constitution every aspect of the then current civil service system." (Ibid.)
Subject to the merit principle, "the constitutional provision left the Legislature with a 'free hand' to fashion 'laws relating to personnel administration for the best interests of the State.' " ( Id. at p. 184.)