The Supreme Court of the United States has granted a writ of certiorari to the appellants of Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case.
On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court found that denying same-sex couples equal access to marriage recognition was a violation of the California Constitution. Chief Justice Ronald George wrote a stirring opinion which was inspired, he told reporters, by recollections from a childhood trip through the South and the “No Negro” signs he saw there.
At 5 pm on June 16, 2008, marriage licenses became available to same-sex couples. Marriage was legal in California.
However, an initiative had been circulated and had already qualified for the ballot. And on November 4, 2008, 52.2% of California voters chose to support Proposition 8 and thus cease the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This unexpected result led to protests across the globe.
Supporters of equality went back to the California Supreme Court to argue that the proposition was improper under several different theories. The Court did not accept the logic.
But on May 23, 2009, three days before the California Supreme Court found Prop 8 to be valid, the newly created American Foundation for Equal Rights sued in federal court, asserting that Proposition 8 runs counter to protections granted by the US Constitution. And the attorney team behind the challenge was Ted Olson and David Boies, the two attorneys who had argued both sides of the election result dispute between George W Bush and Al Gore.
This federal judge assigned to the case, Judge Vaughn Walker, did something unusual; he ordered that a trial of fact would occur. This meant that attorneys could not simply come into the courtroom and make whatever claims they chose; rather, they would need to provide evidence for their assertions.
The lead plaintiffs were Kristin Perry and Sandra Steir and the lead defendant was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (whose defense consisted of “here, your honor”), so the case became Perry v. Schwarzenegger.
Because the Governor and the California Attorney General (currently Governor) Jerry Brown offered no argument in favor of discrimination, supporters of the proposition were granted standing to defend the law.
The case began in January, 2010. After a lengthy trial in which the proponents pulled all but a few witnesses (David Blankenhorn was virtually the only person on the stand for the proponents) and in which the motivations of the supporters of discrimination was the topic of newspapers and television news coverage, on August 4, Judge Walker issued a decision.
An initiative measure adopted by the voters deserves great respect. The considered views and opinions of even the most highly qualified scholars and experts seldom outweigh the determinations of the voters. When challenged, however, the voters’ determinations must find at least some support in evidence. This is especially so when those determinations enact into law classifications of persons. Conjecture, speculation and fears are not enough. Still less will the moral disapprobation of a group or class of citizens suffice, no matter how large the majority that shares that view. The evidence demonstrated beyond serious reckoning that Proposition 8 finds support only in such disapproval. As such, Proposition 8 is beyond the constitutional reach of the voters or their representatives.
At this point the state of California, through its Governor and Attorney General, accepted the ruling of the court. And that would have been that, but the proponents of Prop 8 demanded that the case be appealed. And the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the proponents could have standing to appeal the decision of Judge Walker.
The decision was stayed pending the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In December 2011, the Ninth Circuit hear argument about the constitutionality of Proposition 8. And on February 7th of this year, the Ninth Circuit found that indeed Proposition 8 violated the US Contitution, however on a narrower position. The found that having once granted marriage rights equally, a state cannot choose a single demographic from which to withdraw those rights. The left open the bigger picture of whether marriage rights, in and of themselves, cannot be subject to discrimination based on animus.
Again the proponent of discrimination appealed and again the decision was stayed.
Today, the Supreme Court of the United States has announced that it will hear Hollingsworth v. Perry (the current name of the case, reflecting the challengers – headed by Hollingsworth).
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2012
HOLLINGSWORTH, DENNIS, ET AL. V. PERRY, KRISTIN M., ET AL.
The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: Whether petitioners have standing under Article III, §2 of the Constitution in this case.
Many pundits expected a different answer. We thought that the court would allow the ruling of the Ninth Circuit to stand, thus allowing marriage under the unique circumstances in California (rights revoked) and avoid the question of marriage equality until public opinion had solidified.
And that may still be their decision. By questioning standing, they may be signaling that they will find that the Ninth Circuit hearing was not valid and that they have no path through which to even hear the challenge to Judge Walker’s ruling. (If no one other than legally elected representatives of the people had the right to appeal, then there was no appeal).
Argument before the court will be given next year and by June 2013 it is expected that the fate of Proposition 8 will be resolved.