Additional thoughts on Prop 8 appeal
December 7th, 2010
Last night I had the opportunity to watch the full debate in detail and to digest what I saw. This has given me a few additional thoughts about the way the arguments went. These were my impressions:
The judges would like to address the issue. They are reluctant to let the Governor and Attorney General nullify the proposition simply by refusing to repeal; it seems too much like an illegal veto. On the other hand, they are finding it difficult to identify any parties with standing that have any interest in appealing Judge Walker’s decision.
The Proponents pretty much are, by legal precedent, unable to have standing. The Arizonans case is just too similar and the US Supreme Court determined that there was no standing for the initiative’s proponents. Interestingly, two of the three justices were on that case and they were “on the wrong side” in granting the Arizonans proponents standing before being reversed.
But there was some discussion about how ‘filling in for state officials who won’t appeal’ may be different from state to state. There may be enough question to allow for some small measure of uncertainty.
The judges were also extremely hostile to Isabel Vargas’ claim of standing. Vargas, the deputy clerk of Imperial County, is a bit player in the drama, so insignificant that most news stories don’t even include her name. And clearly the judges thought that
The first question asked in the hearing was, “Where is Dolores Provencio?”
Provencio, the Imperial County Clerk, has not participated in the case at all, not even providing a deposition. Vargas’ attorney was left arguing that Provencio wasn’t opposed to Vargas’ action, to which the judge responded, “Well, we really don’t know that, do we?”
But, on the other hand, Boies presented an argument that seemed to be both technical and preposterous. He claimed that the clerk of Imperial County was not bound by Judge Walker’s order because he only bound the named defendants: the Governor, Attorney General, Recorder, and clerks of Alameda and Los Angeles counties.
Under questioning, he went so far as to say that clerks of other counties could deny same-sex marriages until such time as the Attorney General went to state court to compel the other counties to observe Judge Walker’s ruling. This seemed to be an argument that was rather contrived and, frankly, convinced no one, especially not Judge Reinhardt.
Based on my impression, standing will be determined by two factors: 1) the panel may inquire with the CA Supreme Court whether CA law allows Proponents, or 2) the judges may convince themselves that Vargas was in conflict between the constitution and the order and thereby harmed. They will rally have to stretch to get there, but may do so in order to rule on the case. Smith may be the least receptive to Vargas’ appeal for standing, as he sees her role as purely ministerial.
I think that the Proponents erred big-time back in January when they brought Vargas rather than a real clerk. I think that the clerk of a county may well have been given standing.
Interestingly, none of the judges were impressed with the claims of the Proponents. Hawkins, at one point, mocked Accidental Pregnancy Theory and he simply would not let go of the comparisons between Proposition 8 and the Romer case. Reinhardt seemed completely unconvinced with anything that Cooper had to say and interrupted him continuously.
The judges, Reinhardt and Hawkins in particular, seemed to agree with Olson that there’s quite a difference between refusing to grant a right and taking it away once it has been enjoyed. This seems to be supported by some direct language from the SCOTUS and intuitively feels right.
Smith seemed to be in a bit of a bind. It appeared that he was searching – fishing, almost – for a rational basis on which to hang his opinion. And he couldn’t get one out of Cooper. So he finally made one up himself: that the state thought that children were best raised by their father and mother. He got a bit sharp when Olson pointed out that this contradicted the evidence presented in court.
Olson’s strongest point was when he noted that the case isn’t about state’s rights or the rights of voters. The 14th Amendment protects the rights of individuals. And if a class was to be established against which harmful discrimination was to be enacted, such discrimination couldn’t be justified by illogical reasons that fall from the sky. The reason really had to be strong enough, rational enough, and closely enough directed towards “remedying the ill” that it was worth the damage it inflicted.
I think that we won the argument. I don’t know if we won the case. If I were to bet on the result, I’d find it likely that Judge Walker’s decision will be upheld by this panel, and possibly with a 3-0 vote.