Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Prop 8 battle headed for court

Posted By on Wed, Nov 5, 2008 at 6:07 PM

Opponents of Proposition 8, the ballot measure titled "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry," have not yet conceded defeat. They're holding out hope that absentee and provisional ballots still uncounted might make up for the fact that "Yes" votes currently outnumber "No"s by around 500,000. In the meantime, No on 8 groups have already stated legal maneuvers to invalidate the measure. The Yes side is hitting back. A pair of press releases lays out the dueling positions.

There's this from the ACLU:

Legal Papers Claim Initiative Procedure Cannot Be Used To Undermine the Constitution's Core Commitment To Equality For Everyone

SAN FRANCISCO – The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a writ petition before the California Supreme Court today urging the court to invalidate Proposition 8 if it passes. The petition charges that Proposition 8 is invalid because the initiative process was improperly used in an attempt to undo the constitution's core commitment to equality for everyone by eliminating a fundamental right from just one group – lesbian and gay Californians. Proposition 8 also improperly attempts to prevent the courts from exercising their essential constitutional role of protecting the equal protection rights of minorities. According to the California Constitution, such radical changes to the organizing principles of state government cannot be made by simple majority vote through the initiative process, but instead must, at a minimum, go through the state legislature first.

The California Constitution itself sets out two ways to alter the document that sets the most basic rules about how state government works. Through the initiative process, voters can make relatively small changes to the constitution. But any measure that would change the underlying principles of the constitution must first be approved by the legislature before being submitted to the voters. That didn't happen with Proposition 8, and that's why it's invalid.

"If the voters approved an initiative that took the right to free speech away from women, but not from men, everyone would agree that such a measure conflicts with the basic ideals of equality enshrined in our constitution. Proposition 8 suffers from the same flaw – it removes a protected constitutional right – here, the right to marry – not from all Californians, but just from one group of us," said Jenny Pizer, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal. "That's too big a change in the principles of our constitution to be made just by a bare majority of voters."

"A major purpose of the constitution is to protect minorities from majorities. Because changing that principle is a fundamental change to the organizing principles of the constitution itself, only the legislature can initiate such revisions to the constitution," added Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.

The groups filed the lawsuit today in the California Supreme Court on behalf of Equality California and 6 same-sex couples who did not marry before Tuesday's election but would like to be able to marry now.

The groups filed a writ petition in the California Supreme Court before the elections presenting similar arguments because they believed the initiative should not have appeared on the ballot, but the court dismissed that petition without addressing its merits. That earlier order is not precedent here.

"Historically, courts are reluctant to get involved in disputes if they can avoid doing so," said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of NCLR. "It is not uncommon for the court to wait to see what happens at the polls before considering these legal arguments. However, now that Proposition 8 may pass, the courts will have to weigh in and we believe they will agree that Proposition 8 should never have been on the ballot in the first place."

This would not be the first time the court has struck down an improper voter initiative. In 1990, the court stuck down an initiative that would have added a provision to the California Constitution stating that the "Constitution shall not be construed by the courts to afford greater rights to criminal defendants than those afforded by the Constitution of the United States." That measure was invalid because it improperly attempted to strip California's courts of their role as independent interpreters of the state's constitution.

In a statement issued earlier today, the groups stated their conviction, which is shared by the California Attorney General, that the state must continue to honor the marriages of the 18,000 lesbian and gay couples who have already married in California.

A copy of the statement is available at:

A copy of the writ petition filed today is available at:

In addition to the ACLU, Lambda Legal and NCLR, the legal team bringing the writ also includes the Law Office of David C. Codell; Munger Tolles & Olson, LLP; and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP.

Meanwhile we got this statement in response from Andrew Pugno, General Counsel of, the Yes on 8 folks:
"The lawsuit filed today by the ACLU and Equality California seeking to invalidate the decision of California voters to enshrine traditional marriage in California’s constitution is frivolous and regrettable. These same groups filed an identical case with the California Supreme Court months ago, which was summarily dismissed. We will vigorously defend the People’s decision to enact Proposition 8.

This is the second time that California voters have acted to define marriage as between a man and a woman. It is time that the opponents of traditional marriage respect the voters’ decision.

The ACLU/Equality California lawsuit is completely lacking in merit. It is as if their campaign just spent $40 million on a losing campaign opposing something they now say is a legal nullity. Their position is absurd, an insult to California voters and an attack on the initiative process itself.

The right to amend California’s Constitution is not granted to the People, it is reserved by the People. The Supreme Court has repeatedly acknowledged the reserved power of the People to use the initiative process to amend the Constitution. For example, when the Rose Bird Court struck down the death penalty as a violation of fundamental state constitutional rights, the People disagreed, and in the exercise of their sovereign power reversed that interpretation of their Constitution through the initiative-amendment process. Even a liberal jurist who vehemently disagreed with the People’s decision on the death penalty, Justice Stanley Mosk, nevertheless acknowledged the People’s authority to decide the issue through the initiative-amendment process.

It should also be noted that the ACLU recently made this same "constitutional revision" claim in a nearly identical matter in Oregon and it was unanimously rejected. The claim was made under almost identical provisions of the Oregon State Constitution, against an almost identical voter constitutional amendment which read, "…only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or legally recognized as a marriage." The Court of Appeals of Oregon unanimously rejected the ACLU’s "revision" claim. (Martinez v. Kulongoski (May 21, 2008)  --- P.3d----, 220 Or.App. 142, 2008 WL2120516).

The coalition that has worked so hard for the past year to enact Proposition 8 will vigorously defend the People’s decision against this unfortunate challenge by groups who, having lost in the court of public opinion, now turn to courts of law to pursue their agenda."

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

Freelance photographer and writer, Arts and Entertainment editor from 1997 to 2013.

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