Today, the CA S Ct opined that the Prop 8 official proponents have standing to appeal under state law. The Ninth Circuit will surely accept the ruling, and we can move on to the merits of the case. Here’s my analysis over at The New Civil Rights Movement. As always, comments welcome — on either site.
It’s over at 365gay.com.
In brief, the Ninth Circuit panel punted the decision on standing over to the California Supreme Court. After analyzing the court’s opinion — which is carefully constructed to get the court to find that there is standing, I ask:
What does it all mean?
First, the California Supreme Court doesn’t have to answer the question put to it. If it refuses, the issue will be thrown back to the Ninth Circuit, which will then have to make its best guess. (If the composition of the panel is the same, the answer to the standing question will be “yes.”)
Second, it’s very clear now that the panelists really want to answer the monumental constitutional issue put before them. They have just made it much harder for the Supreme Court to dodge the question on the basis of standing, as would have been likelier had the judges simply ruled – one way or the other – on standing. In that case, the losing side would have appealed that ruling to the high court, which could simply have decided there’s no standing and thereby allowed same-sex marriages in California – but only there – to continue.
But if the California Supreme Court finds that the Prop 8 proponents have standing – and it will – then it would become harder for the U.S. Supreme Court to disagree, given the Court’s statement in Arizonans for Official English about the importance of state law.
Third, this decision really pushes back the ultimate day of reckoning. The California court can take its time deciding whether to certify, and then call for briefs, then schedule oral argument, then render a decision….And whoever loses the standing issue is likely to appeal that issue, perhaps twice (to the Ninth Circuit en banc and then to the Supreme Court) before we even get to the merits.
If ever. Because the voters could themselves make all of this moot by voting to repeal Prop 8, which could happen in 2012. Suddenly, that doesn’t seem so far off.
Earlier today, I live-blogged the argument to a Ninth Circuit panel in Perry v. Schwarzenegger.
Now, with dinner and a ridiculously difficult swim behind me, and the kids in bed, here are some observations about what I heard (and saw in the judges’ faces) during the argument:
(1) The court seemed much more interested in the unique facts of California’s marriage equality/Prop 8 situation than in reaching a broad decision about whether the U.S. Constitution confers a right on same-sex couples to marry. Judges Hawkins and Reinhardt, especially, kept encouraging Ted Olson to take a big — but incomplete — victory, declaring Prop 8 to be unconstitutional, but avoiding the deeper question of whether the state can ever deprive its gay and lesbian citizens of the right to marry.
Here’s the path to doing so: In the 1996 Supreme Court case, Romer v. Evans, the Court struck down an amendment to the state’s constitution that effectively walled gays and lesbians off from any legal redress for discrimination. As Justice Ginsburg pointedly noted during argument, under the state’s argument, any LGBT state resident could be denied the right to borrow a book from the public library just because of sexual orientation, and would have no redress. This, the Court said, no state may do. It’s hard to find an action that strikes more directly at the heart of the equality principle, and Romer famously began with a quote from Justice Harlan’s eloquent dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson: “The Constitution neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”
Reinhardt and Hawkins made ample use of Romer, strongly suggesting that Prop 8, by taking away a right that the state’s supreme court had already deemed fundamental (earlier that same year, 2008), created for LGBT citizens a second-class standing, by the name “domestic partnership.” And given that the domestic partnership confers all the rights of marriage but withholds the name, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the enactment is motivated by anything other than animus towards gay and lesbian couples.
There’s something paradoxical about this, of course (as I’ve noted in a law review article, The Short, Puzzling(?) Life of the Civil Union) — a state, such as California, that’s gone all the way up to marriage for gays and lesbians while withholding the word is, under this approach, more vulnerable to challenge than a state like, say, Florida, that has no state-wide protection for gays and lesbians. Indeed, Charles Cooper (attorney for the Prop 8 proponents) called this kind of analysis “perverse.” But it might carry the day, if the court finds that at least one of the Prop 8 defenders before it has standing. (See (3), below.)
(2) None of the substantive arguments in favor of Prop 8 appeared to have much traction with the court, except with Judge Smith. I’m not oversimplifying to say that the argument was really about procreation — particularly, accidental procreation — and little else. That’s all they had once the court wouldn’t stand for the argument that “the people” should get to decide to continue restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples because — well, because marriage has so far been restricted to opposite-sex couples.
(3) I wouldn’t be completely surprised if the court finds that the Prop 8 proponents have no standing; that’s not what I’m expecting, but it could happen. The questions on standing were pointed, withering, and perhaps decisive. I’ll leave further analysis of this point to those few experts in procedural constitutional law who have thoroughly digested the case law on this issue. (Some good ones are linked here.)1
(4) There’s much, much more to come. The court even suggested that the case might for a time be diverted to the California Supreme Court to resolve an issue central to standing. Whether or not that happens, there will still be an appeal by the losing side to the full Ninth Circuit (called an en banc hearing), a likely appeal to, and decision by, the U.S. Supreme Court, and then even a remand (possibly) to the trial court — but not to Judge Walker, who is about to retire.
All things considered, I think the court would be wise to limit its ruling to the unique facts and circumstances of Prop 8 (and here I’m assuming that the case will survive the appeal). Here’s why:
Justice Kennedy, who holds the balance of power, would be much likelier to agree with a more cabined holding. And setting the case in the context of Romer would appeal to him; after all, he wrote it.
If the Supreme Court does throw out Prop 8 — without deciding the broader question of marriage equality, once and for all (or as “once and for all” as the Court gets) — then the gigantic, bellwether state of California will soon be issuing millions of marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples (as well as eliminating needless complications that have tied courts up when dealing with transgendered folks) and it will become clearer, faster that the Earth didn’t spin off its axis. More states would then follow, more quickly, and before long the issue will become so clear — if not plain dumb, a waste of time and energy for all but the few most zealous oppositionists — that the Supreme Court would face little to no backlash in calling all committed, loving couples into the constitutional embrace of full marriage equality.
- Note: This link wasn’t working; now, it should be. Sorry for the glitch. ↩
On Monday (Dec. 6), the Ninth Circuit (federal appellate court) will be hearing arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8. I will be live-blogging the argument, beginning at 1 pm EST, over at 365gay.com. (I will link back to it from here when it’s done, but if you want the blow-by-blow, go there — not here.)
The first hour will address the standing issue; the second, the substance of the constitutional arguments. While standing arguments are usually a MEGO1, in this case it’s worth listening closely — there’s more than a minimal chance that the court will toss the Prop 8 defenders out on the ground that intervening parties don’t have standing to appeal.
- “My eyes glaze over.” ↩
All over the gayosphere this evening was the news that oral argument on Prop 8, set for December 6, is to be televised. The Ninth Circuit issued an order allowing the full two hours of argument to be broadcast.
You’ll probably recall that the proceedings in the court below had been approved for telecast, too — until SCOTUS stepped in with some trumped-up reasons for reversing that determination (by an ominous 5-4 decision). Technically, at least, the Court’s ruling was based on the lower court’s failure to follow the rules for approving broadcasting, so assuming that these rules have now been followed (sheesh, let’s hope so!), I don’t expect the Supremes to weigh in again — at least not for now.
The two hours are to be divided equally between procedure and substance, and that’s telling all by itself. The first hour will focus on the quite serious standing issue; since the State of California has declined to appeal its loss, there’s strong Supreme Court language suggesting (though by no means stating unequivocally) that the intervenors supporting Prop 8 don’t have standing to lodge the appeal. The case might or might be complicated by the alleged interest of county officials, though. Can they defend the law even if the state won’t? It’s quite possible, for the reasons set forth in this clear, and excellent post. It’s also possible that the whole case could be thrown out on this basis: If the intervenors don’t have standing to appeal, why then did they have standing to sue? (The post also discusses this problem expertly). If the court finds no standing for this reason, then the suit would have to be refiled — but would have no defenders (since the newly elected Governor — who’s also the former AG — believe that Prop 8 should die.
OK, standing isn’t the best topic with which to debut Prop 8 Court TV, but it will get more interesting for non-lawyers from there. They will rouse themselves from a deep, coma-like sleep once the argument moves to the serious constitutional issues. I hope enough people are watching for word to spread, far and wide: The Prop 8 proponents have little to commend their position. As David Boies has memorably stated, once the issue moved out of the public square where anything can and will be said — support or logic be damned — and into the courtroom where actual arguments are needed to sustain the ban against same-sex marriages, the emperor stood revealed.
Don’t expect anything to happen soon, though. Whatever the court decides, an appeal to the court en banc (which usually means all judges on the appellate court, but is constituted by fewer judges in the Ninth Circuit given the court’s sheer size) is inevitable. Then, on to the Supreme Court, in all likelihood — whether on standing issues or substance, it’s too early to say.
But the public will get a rich sense of the injustice of the law’s exclusion of same-sex couples from the dignity and legal recognition of marriage. For that, we can thank the court’s sensible decision to allow this broadcast.