December 10th, 2012
Some on-site discussion about the standing decision suggests that we revisit this issue. Here’s the background:
When Perry v. Schwarzenegger was decided for the plaintiffs (overturning Proposition 8), the Governor and Attorney General accepted the decision. They did not do so as Arnold and Jerry, but as the democratically elected representatives of the people of the State of California.
This put two democratic decisions at conflict: the people elected Schwarzenegger and Brown to act on their behalf, and the people voted for Proposition 8. But the elected representatives were choosing not to fully support the proposition for which the people voted.
This presented a problem for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Precedent suggested that unless the state had a provision for appointing an appellant other than the named defense, then there was no standing for appeal. Yet those who supported the Proposition were arguing that politicians were defying democracy.
The Ninth Circuit punted. They asked the California Supreme Court whether California law had a provision by which someone other than an elected representative could represent the state.
The California Supreme Court were worried that the will of the people in a direct vote might be somehow thwarted by their elected representative choosing not to appeal the court’s ruling. They saw this in terms of a greater threat: that politicians would torpedo voter initiated controls on their elected officials thus neutering the whole initiative process.
Neither the Governor, the Attorney General, nor any other executive or legislative official has the authority to veto or invalidate an initiative measure that has been approved by the voters. It would exalt form over substance to interpret California law in a manner that would permit these public officials to indirectly achieve such a result by denying the official initiative proponents the authority to step in to assert the state‘s interest in the validity of the measure or to appeal a lower court judgment invalidating the measure when those public officials decline to assert that interest or to appeal an adverse judgment.
But, as I see it, their ruling has four possible flaws.
First, if there is such a thing as “legislating from the bench”, this is it. They did not point to any statutes, code, or even the legislative will behind such. Rather they found “logic” and “reason” to be the factors under consideration. This was entirely an outcome driven conclusion.
Second, their decision can be seen as a stretch. It does seem reasonable to state that an initiative supported by popular vote must have a defense. But to say that an initiative stands apart from any other state interest and deserves appeal, whether with the support or opposition of an elected official, seems to be an answer that was driven too specifically by the emotions and through the prism of this very controversial moment.
Suppose that the voters of California supported an initiative that was endorsed by the Governor and Attorney General. And suppose that they fiercely defended the initiative in federal court only to be informed, in no uncertain terms and with unquestionable precedent and the weight of legal consensus, that the initiative was a violation of the US Constitution. Do they then have no right to accept the ruling? This ruling would suggest that no party ever has the right to any decision other than in favor of appeal.
The third possible flaw with the California ruling was that it was based on the presumption that the people of the state wanted the proposition to be supported on appeal. In protecting the will of the people, it presupposes the will of the people.
It might seem logical that the people want endless appeals. After all, they voted for this initiative. But that is not by necessity always true. It is also possible that the people of the state of California voted against same-sex marriage but, upon finding that it violated the US Constitution, accepted that decision and wished to move on with their lives.
Fourth, and perhaps the most questionable, is that the California Supreme Court selected who would be assigned standing in cases of this nature. Without any legislative or constitutional language suggesting that proponents – as opposed to an advocate or elected official or anyone at all – had some special advantage, the court just pointed and said “them”.
There is logic to the selection, up to a point. After all, as proponents for the bill, they might in this case be assumed to be best equipped to defend it.
However, this is a wild assumption. I’ve known a number of initiatives that received support from voters but whose proponents were loons. Sometimes the people can endorse an idea without for a moment endorsing the person who proposes it. And if there was a group less representative of the voters of California than the proponents of Proposition 8, I’d be hard pressed to find them.
But, nevertheless, the Ninth Circuit leaped on the opportunity not to make that decision and accepted the guidance of the California Supreme Court. Who better to direct as to who would represent the state?
But that does not mean that the Supreme Court of the United States will go along with that decision. Just as the California Supremes found a necessity of protecting the rights of the people from their elected representatives, the US Supremes may feel a need to protect the rights of the people from their unelected judiciary’s creative finding.
Or the SCOTUS may find that states may assign such lunatics as they like to their defense and through whichever means they prefer. At this point we don’t know.
But the decision to accept Perry AND to discuss standing indicates that the court wishes to rule on the matter one way or the other. And this ruling will greatly clear up what is an increasingly unclear area of federal law.