The Long Road to a Final Opinion on Prop 8

Yesterday was the presentation of the case to the 9th circuit.  Now, it’s not the full 9th circuit, which means that whatever these three judges decide, they may well have to reconvene with the rest of the 9th circuit if whoever loses this round decides to appeal.  It’s sort of a weird situation but it appears that, whatever they rule, the loser can then appeal either to the full 9th or to the Supreme Court.  If they appeal to the full 9th, they will probably then appeal to the Supreme Court anyway.  It all feels a bit futile when you know that it’s going to get appealed all the way up.

The three judges on the panel are, from most liberal to most conservative, Stephen Reinhardt, Michael Hawkins and Randy Smith.  Both Reinhardt and Hawkins seemed to agree with Judge Walker’s logic, while Smith seemed to be a bit more on the fence.  Even he, a fairly conservative republican, had a hard time with the idea that California had given a right and then taken it away — this led to one of the better lines of the day, in which a judge asked if it would be OK for California voters to reinstitute segregation.  Smith did, however, think that promoting procreation and a biological mom and dad family environment was a reasonable rational basis for excluding homosexuals from the instituion.

His biggest problem with the prosecutorial case came with the question of standing.  For those not following, the official defendants named in the case refused to defend the law, so several other people joined the lawsuit as Defendant Intervenors.  The DI aren’t people who would normally even be allowed to participate, but because no one was defending Prop 8 in California, they were allowed to join the case.  The question now is whether they are qualified to be DIs in a federal court.

The answer basically appears to be no, especially since SCOTUS has been tightening restrictions on who can be a DI in federal court over the last couple of decades.  The problem Judge Smith has, and I actually agree with him here, is that California has a process that says that the Governor cannot veto something voted on by the people and that, by refusing to defend Prop 8, he’s nullifying what the people want.

So, I don’t think that any of the DI actually deserve standing, but in the absence of an official Defendant, I feel like to respect the legislative process in California, it might be necessary for the 9th court to recognize the DIs in this case.

I posted a flow chart yesterday that explains exactly how convoluted all of this is, but if the 9th Court determines that the DI don’t have standing, and SCOTUS agrees, then Walker’s ruling stands and gay marriage is legal in CA.  If it’s determined that the DI do have standing, then it’s a much longer road to a final opinion, but there’s a chance that that opinion will legalize gay marriage nationwide.

By a longer road, I mean a wait for the 3 judges to rule on the constitutionality of Prop 8, then an optional wait for the full 9th court to rule on it, then a wait on SCOTUS to see if 4 judges want to have a hearing, and then finally a wait for SCOTUS to make a final ruling.

Now, in terms of argument, it has never been clearer that the DI simply don’t have one that goes beyond “gay people can have children, but they can’t do it accidentally and, even though there are no fertility requirements on straight people, we think that calling an institution marriage promotes responsible child-rearing, and we don’t think encouraging gays to responsibly procreate is something that marriage should do because they do it anyway.”  And, revealingly, the judges asked how wide a ruling that agreed with Walker would have to be — in other words, if they agree that Prop 8 isn’t constitutional, do they then have to say that gay marriage is a right in their jurisdiction?  Olson wiggled a bit, saying that that’s what he’s asking for without trying to bind their hands.

Being able to watch this all on live video just underlined how bad the lawyers on the DI side are and how good Boies and Olson are.  I know that sounds like a biased opinion, but even ignoring the strength of argument, the DI lawyers stuttered, stammered, and weaseled their way through their arguments, only to be repeatedly called on it by the judges who threw out such gems as:

“Is there anything  in the record to indicatate that she has any authority whatsoever?”

“You’re repeating yourself now.”

“If you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know.”

It was painful, but since it was televised, I really hope that some people who weren’t as familiar with the trial got the chance to see just how illogical the DI position is and how eloquent, intelligent and prepared the prosecution is.  If you get the opportunity, I urge you to watch it, I will probably watch it again myself.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TA_vFjjd3yM

The DI also continue to shoot themselves in the foot by saying things like “the word is the institution,” which just underlines that even if gays had access to everything but the word, they wouldn’t have access to the institution itself.  I’ll let Therese Stewart end this, because she is amazing(paraphrase from here):

If the word is the institution, then the argument is just that gays and lesbians would “stain” the institution. The fact that Prop 8 is symbolic, it makes the insult obvious. This is classification for its own sake, and it violates the equal protection clause. Taking these components together, it infers animus.

If we only passed Prop 8 to show that same-sex couples aren’t as good, or as worthy as other couples, then isn’t the equal protection argument plain to see? It reveals the naked schoolyard taunting aspect of Prop 8. Nah-nanny-boo boo, you aren’t as good as me. And frankly, nanny-boo-boo isn’t a valid use of state authority.

Who will vote how on Prop 8; Supreme Court Justice breakdown

So, I’ve been trying to figure out how I think SCOTUS breaks down for the Prop8 vote.  I am going to be fairly optimistic based on the quality of the argument and Olson’s record with SCOTUS up to now.  Argued over 50 cases in front of SCOTUS, has won 3/4ths of them, including the decision today that said Corporations have freedom of speech and therefore can spend as much as they want on politics.  He’s clearly good at getting SCOTUS to expand rather than deny rights, no matter the public opinion.

Of course, there are 6 Catholics on the bench, and the Catholic Church, along with LDS, was responsible for most of the mobilization in support of Prop 8.  Anyway, in my optimism, I think it’s even possible for a 6-3 decision declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional.  Of course, 5-4 against is just as possible. No means declaring it unconstitutional, yes is saying prop 8 should stay.

And if anyone has any insight, feel free to post. These are mere conjectures based on what I can find on the interwebs.

JUSTICE ROBERTS

Pros: He donated legal to Romer vs. Evans which demanded equal rights for gays in Colorado. Fairly constructionist approach to Constitution, which is how Olson is making his case.

Cons: Catholic, part of the conservative block (though he has broken with them before), really into states rights

Vote: Likely yes, but some foundation for a surprise no

JUSTICE STEVENS

Pros: Staked out the anti-sodomy laws position in the mid-80s as a dissenting opinion, which eventually became the majority position in 2003. Considered part of the liberal block. Not Catholic.

Cons: None that I can find, though there’s nothing suggesting he’s particularly Pro gay marriage either.

Vote: Probably No

JUSTICE SCALIA

Pros: Just the one, he’s a big fan of the Constitution and Olson is making a very very strong argument.

Cons: He hates gay people. He’s the leader of the conservative block. Catholic. And he really hates gay people.

Vote: Burn all gay people at the stake Definite Yes.

JUSTICE KENNEDY

Pros: Kennedy has often taken a strong stance in favor of expanding Constitutional rights to cover sexual orientation. Though considered conservative, often a swing vote. References foreign law for precedence often.

Cons: Conservative more often than not. Catholic.

Vote: Likely No

JUSTICE THOMAS

Pros: None

Cons: Extremely conservative. Extremely into states rights. Performed a wedding for Rush Limbaugh. Even Scalia thinks he’s way too far to the right, “I am an originalist, but I am not a nut.” Super into religion, and thinks that religion should be allowed to be a lot more involved in public life. He also hates the gays.

Vote: Not just Yes, but a Yes to the RIGHT of Scalia

JUSTICE GINSBURG

Pros: She is awesome and my favorite. (Also liberal, pro-choice, pro-gay)

Cons: None

Vote: No

JUSTICE BREYER

Pros: Liberal. Refers to foreign law. Seems to like the gays.

Cons: None that I’m aware of.

Vote: No

JUSTICE ALITO

Pros: Was against anti-sodomy laws well before the court, but also was a student.

Cons: Conservative. Known as “Scalito”, though definitely to the left of Scalia. Catholic.

Vote: Almost certain Yes… but maybe…

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR

Pros: Some of the anti-Hispanic rhetoric exhibited by the yes on 8ers will probably not make her think highly of them. She lives in Greenwich village. Considered an ally, though little to support this.

Cons: Catholic.

Vote: Likely no, little to go on though.

4 extremely likely nos, 1 probable no
3 almost certain yeses, 1 most likely yes