Here are key quotes from Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8, a 2008 voter-approved ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California. The 5-4 high court majority dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds, saying the private parties who brought the appeal had no legal “standing” or authority to press their claims.
California officials have interpreted the ruling as allowing same-sex marriage to resume in the state within weeks.
From the majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts (supported by Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan):
– “We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.”
– “Petitioners (Proposition 8 supporters) argue that the California Constitution and its election laws give them a ‘unique,’ ‘special,’ and ‘distinct’ role in the initiative process. … True enough – but only when it comes to the process of enacting the law. Upon submitting the proposed initiative to the attorney general, petitioners became the official ‘proponents’ of Proposition 8. As such, they were responsible for collecting the signatures required to qualify the measure for the ballot. After those signatures were collected, the proponents alone had the right to file the measure with election officials to put it on the ballot. Petitioners also possessed control over the arguments in favor of the initiative that would appear in California’s ballot pamphlets. But once Proposition 8 was approved by the voters, the measure became ‘a duly enacted constitutional amendment or statute.’ Petitioners have no role – special or otherwise – in the enforcement of Proposition 8. They therefore have no ‘personal stake’ in defending its enforcement that is distinguishable from the general interest of every citizen of California.”
– “Petitioners here hold no office and have always participated in this litigation solely as private parties.”
– “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.”
From the dissent by Justice Anthony Kennedy (supported by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor):
– “What the Court fails to grasp or accept is the basic premise of the initiative process. And it is this. The essence of democracy is that the right to make law rests in the people and flows to the government, not the other way around. Freedom resides first in the people without need of a grant from government. The California initiative process embodies these principles and has done so for over a century. … In California and the 26 other states that permit initiatives and popular referendums, the people have exercised their own inherent sovereign right to govern themselves. The Court today frustrates that choice.”
– “Proponents’ authority under state law is not a contrivance. It is not a fictional construct. It is the product of the California Constitution and the California Elections Code. There is no basis for this Court to set aside the California Supreme Court’s determination of state law.”
– “The Court’s opinion disrespects and disparages both the political process in California and the well-stated opinion of the California Supreme Court in this case. The California Supreme Court, not this Court, expresses concern for vigorous representation; the California Supreme Court, not this Court, recognizes the necessity to avoid conflicts of interest; the California Supreme Court, not this Court, comprehends the real interest at stake in this litigation and identifies the most proper party to defend that interest. The California Supreme Court’s opinion reflects a better understanding of the dynamics and principles of Article III than does this Court’s opinion.”