[JURIST] The California Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; Perry v. Brown materials] Thursday that sponsors of Proposition 8 [text; JURIST news archive] and other ballot initiatives can defend them in court when the state refuses to do so. When the same-sex marriage ban was initially struck down last year [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website], then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former attorney general and current Governor Jerry Brown [official website], who were originally defendants in the lawsuit, refused to continue defending the measure on appeal [JURIST report]. This left defendant-intervenors Project Marriage [advocacy website] and other groups to defend the law. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] sought guidance [JURIST report] from the California Supreme Court on whether the defendants have standing to defend the proposition when the state itself refused to do so. The California Supreme Court answered in the affirmative:
The judicial system is designed to operate through public proceedings in which adversaries litigate factual and legal issues thoroughly and vigorously. When an initiative measure is challenged in court, the integrity and effectiveness of the judicial process require that a competent and spirited defense be presented. If public officials refuse to provide that defense, the ability of the initiative proponents to intervene in the pending litigation, and to appeal an adverse judgment, is inherent in, and essential to the effective exercise of, the constitutional initiative power. To hold otherwise not only would undermine that constitutional power, it also would allow state executive branch officials to effectively annul voter-approved initiatives simply by declining to defend them, thereby permitting those officials to exceed their proper role in our state government‘s constitutional structure.
Although seemingly a setback for same-sex marriage supporters since the ruling gives same-sex marriage opponents the opportunity to argue against the district court’s ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, the American Foundation for Equal Rights [advocacy website] stated that it was actually a victory because they are confident that the Ninth Circuit will uphold [press release] the district court’s ruling and a victory in the largest appeals court in the country will set a huge precedent.
A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] in June rejected a motion by Proposition 8 supporters to vacate Judge Vaughn Walker’s holding that the same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. In March, the Ninth Circuit denied a motion [JURIST report] filed by California Attorney General Kamala Harris [official website] to lift the stay order [JURIST report] prohibiting gay couples from marrying while the appeal is pending. The Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments [video; JURIST report] in Perry v. Brown [case materials] at the end of 2010. The hearing was divided into two one-hour sessions, with the first section focusing on the issue of standing, and the second focusing on Proposition 8’s constitutionality.