The California Supreme Court has accepted the certified question in the Prop 8 case and will answer it. An expedited schedule has been granted.
The state high court, meeting in closed session, agreed to a request by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to determine the status California law gives initiative sponsors.
The court was unanimous in deciding to accept the case. The court's order set an expedited briefing schedule to permit a hearing by "as early as September." The court must rule on a case 90 days after oral argument.
A panel of the 9th Circuit has indicated it would have to dismiss an appeal by proponents of Proposition 8 on procedural grounds unless the California court determines that the initiative's sponsors have legal standing. A procedural ruling would not affect gay marriage outside of California.
What this likely means is that a 9th Circuit Court ruling in the Prop 8 case is delayed for a good length of time.
Our legal expert, Ari Ezra Waldman wrote up an excellent analysis of this in early January. Read it HERE. He'll have analysis of this shortly.
American Foundation for Equal Rights Board President Chad Griffin issued the following statement after the California Supreme Court’s response to the question from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case:
“More than six months ago, the federal district court declared unequivocally that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional and that it causes grave harm to gay and lesbian couples and their families each day that it is in effect. We look forward to assisting the California Supreme Court reach an answer to the question before them so that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals can affirm the district court’s ruling and end the state-sanctioned discrimination of Prop. 8.
“The American Foundation for Equal Rights is committed to achieving the freedom to marry for all Americans. We look forward to taking this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which 14 times before has declared that marriage is a fundamental right for every American.”
I'll update here as it develops…
Reaction from Lambda Legal, AFTER THE JUMP…
In response to today's announcement, Marriage Project Director Jennifer C. Pizer of Lambda Legal issued the following statement:
"Because the federal appeals judges said they need clarification, we look forward to a decision by the California Supreme Court confirming that initiative proponents lack legal standing to continue the Perry case. They are not law enforcers, and have the same limited rights as everyone else to litigate only when their own rights are at stake, not merely to assert their opinions about others' rights."
Initiative proponents also cannot step into the shoes of the attorney general, the governor or other state officials. The reason for this is basic: the governor and attorney general are elected by the people to represent all the people, not just one point of view on one issue, out of countless, competing concerns. Most importantly, state officials swear an oath to uphold the federal and state constitutions, including their abiding promises of equal protection and due process for everyone. Initiative proponents take no such oath, and have no such duties.
Empowering initiative proponents with a special, new exception to these rules would be mistaken in any circumstances but the error is especially stark in this case. Prop 8's proponents claim to represent "the people," but in fact they only represent some seven million voters in a state of 38 million residents. Moreover, according to the U.S. Census, the tiny group of same-sex-couple residents targeted by Prop 8 is only around 200,000 people, or less than 2% of the population.
The state high court's previous decision to allow the initiative power to be used in the unprecedented way Prop 8 did – to strip a terribly vulnerable minority of a fundamental constitutional right – also stripped the equality guarantees out of the California Constitution. Yet another departure now from bedrock California law to allow proponents an exception from the "legal standing" rules would invite further, deeply problematic consequences. It would mean proponents could enter every case about an initiative to argue against the state's position. They could refuse ever to compromise about anything concerning the litigation process. And they could object to every settlement plan based on ideology about what the law should be, rather than what it is.
If the California Supreme Court rules that initiative proponents do indeed lack standing, as we believe is proper, we hope it brings a prompt end to the barrier facing lesbian and gay couples, who only wish to love and care for each other with their government's equal blessing in civil marriage."