June 26, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court rules Prop 8 backers lack federal standing to defend the measure, despite California Supreme Court’s earlier ruling that standing exists under state law

Last December, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that California’s Proposition 8, banning gay marriage, is unconstitutional. You will recall that the California Supreme Court had ruled the previous year that the backers of Prop 8 had standing under California law to defend the ballot measure. But today, as reported just about everywhere, the U.S. Supreme Court held, in a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, that, regardless of whether the backers of Prop 8 have standing under state law, they do not have the particularized standing required under Article III of the federal constitution.

The Chief Justice wrote that the Court does not disrespect or disparage the California Supreme Court’s reasons for finding the petitioners were authorized to defend Prop 8. (Slip opn. 16.) He added that the Court also does not “question California’s sovereign right to maintain an initiative process, or the right of initiative proponents to defend their initiatives in California courts, where Article III does not apply.” (Ibid.) “But,” he explained, “standing in federal court is a question of federal law, not state law. And no matter its reasons, the fact that a State thinks a private party should have standing to seek relief for a generalized grievance cannot override our settled law to the contrary.” (Ibid.)

In a separate 5-4 decision authored by Justice Kennedy, the U.S. Supreme Court today also struck down as unconstitutional Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as solely between a man and a woman for purposes of interpreting and applying federal law.

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