Court Rules Prop 8 Campaign Has Standing to Defend Law

by William C. Duncan

Last year, federal court judge Vaughn Walker ruled that California’s Proposition 8 was unconstitutional because the U.S. Constitution mandates same-sex marriage. That decision is on appeal to the Ninth Circuit, but that court sent it over to the California Supreme Court to allow those judges to weigh in on whether state law allows the organization that campaigned for Prop 8’s passage to defend the law in court. This is necessary because neither the attorney general nor the governor will defend Proposition 8.

Today, the state supreme court decided that the Proposition 8 campaign has standing to defend the law, noting that California courts have consistently allowed “official proponents” of an initiative to “to defend a challenged voter-approved initiative measure in order ‘to guard the people’s right to exercise initiative power.’” The court explained that doing this

(1) assures voters who supported the measure and enacted it into law that any residual hostility or indifference of current public officials to the substance of the initiative measure will not prevent a full and robust defense of the measure to be mounted in court on the people‘s behalf, and (2) ensures a court faced with the responsibility of reviewing and resolving a legal challenge to an initiative measure that it is aware of and addresses the full range of legal arguments that reasonably may be proffered in the measure‘s defense.

The court continued:

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.

Basically, the court has turned back the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ attempt to throw the case, in collusion with recalcitrant government officials, and vindicated the principle that the people of California deserve to have their laws respected and defended in court.

The next step will be for the Ninth Circuit panel to rule on the substantive claim of Proposition 8’s constitutionality.

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