Wednesday, June 6, 2012

9th Circuit Panel's Strike-Down of Prop 8 Will Stand

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in California, decided on Tuesday not to have a rehearing, by a larger en banc panel of that court, on the Proposition 8 case earlier heard by its 3-judge panel, which struck down the voter-enacted ban on gay marriage on equal protection grounds.  That means that gay marriage proponents have won for now, and that Proposition 8 backers will be attempting to take this up to the US Supreme Court.

It is not certain the US Supreme Court will review that case, however.

It's more likely the Supreme Court will hear the First Circuit case from here in Boston that just found DOMA unconstitutional.  But it's also possible the Supreme Court will elect to hear both cases (see constitutional law expert Erwin Chemerinsky's comments in the excerpted article below).  We shall see.

Meantime, there will be no gay marriage yet in California, as despite this final word from the Ninth Circuit in its favor, the mandate will be stayed until final disposition of the appeal to the US Supreme Court.  Here's my excerpt from the excellent article from's The Recorder:

The order denying rehearing leaves in place the court's February 2-1 ruling striking down the ban on equal protection grounds. The majority, led by famously liberal Judge Stephen Reinhardt, said the voter-enacted initiative served no purpose other than "to lessen the status and human dignity" of gays. 
Only four of the court's 25 active members publicly backed rehearing the case before an 11-judge panel. Three of them issued a short yet blistering dissent. "Based on a two-judge majority's gross misapplication of Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), we have now declared that animus must have been the only conceivable motivation for a sovereign state to have remained committed to a definition of marriage that has existed for millennia," wrote Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain.  
"Even worse, we have overruled the will of 7 million California Proposition 8 voters based on a reading of Romer that would be unrecognizable to the justices who joined it, to those who dissented from it, and to the judges from sister circuits who have since interpreted it." Judges Carlos Bea and Jay Bybee joined him.  
Judge N. Randy Smith, who dissented in February, also wanted the case reheard. O'Scannlain's three-paragraph "dissental," as judges on the court call them, opens by pointing to the media "firestorm" President Obama created with his recent announcement supporting same-sex marriage. "Drawing less attention, however, were his comments that the Constitution left this matter to the states and that 'one of the things that [he]'d like to see is that [the] conversation continue in a respectful way,'" O'Scannlain wrote. "Today our court has silenced any such respectful conversation."  
Judge Stephen Reinhardt and Senior Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, who joined him in the panel majority, fired off a single-paragraph response. "We are puzzled by our dissenting colleagues' unusual reliance on the president's views regarding the Constitution, especially as the president did not discuss the narrow issue that we decided in our opinion," the two Democrat-appointees said. "We held only that under the particular circumstances relating to California's Proposition 8, that measure was invalid. In line with the rules governing judicial resolution of constitutional issues, we did not resolve the fundamental question that both sides asked us to: whether the Constitution prohibits the states from banning same-sex marriage." 
Indeed, Reinhardt's panel opinion, leaning heavily on Romer, was painstakingly tailored to California. "Because under California statutory law, same-sex couples had all the rights of opposite-sex couples, regardless of their marital status, all parties agree that Proposition 8 had one effect only," Reinhardt's panel opinion said. "It stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain from the state, or any other authorized party, an important right — the right to obtain and use the designation of 'marriage' to describe their relationship."  
O'Scannlain's short dissent didn't go into the merits, but called Smith's February dissenting opinion "excellent." All four dissenters are Republican appointees.  
The Ninth Circuit's denial of en banc review means Perry could very well be on a similar track for Supreme Court review as a Defense of Marriage Act challenge that was before the First Circuit. A three-judge panel of the Boston-based court last week rendered unconstitutional the provision of DOMA that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.
Some think a DOMA challenge would be a more likely candidate for high court review since it's a challenge to a federal statute, not a state voter initiative, and since plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case are asking for a far more sweeping ruling — one declaring marriage a fundamental right.  
"I would not be surprised to see the Supreme Court take both and have them both briefed and argued (as it often has done)," UC-Irvine law school Dean Erwin Chemerinsky wrote in an email. He noted the court often takes cases on related topics and has them handled "in tandem," where they would be briefed on the same schedule, argued the same day and decided in separate opinions. On the other hand, he said, the Prop 8 opinion is narrow in that it's limited to a state that granted a right and then rescinded it whereas the DOMA case, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, strikes down a federal statute. 
"The court always is inclined to take a case where a federal law is struck down."

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

1 comment:

Divorce Lawyer in Tulsa said...

Unfortunately, 9th circuit rulings aren't primary authority for the state I live in, Oklahoma. Very interesting reading,even though seeing the name Chemerinsky gave me flash backs to my first year constitutional law class.