Sunday, August 25, 2013

In gay marriage decision, did Supremes inadvertently empower pols?

Even those who cheered the result of the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision regarding gay marriage should be concerned about how the court reached it.

Recall that in 2008 California voters passed Proposition 8 which banned gay marriage in that state. In 2010, a district court ruled the amendment unconstitutional. Normally, the state would appeal on behalf of its voter-approved law, but in this case California's governor and attorney general agreed with the district court decision and refused to appeal.

Prop. 8 supporters did their day in court, though. The California Supreme Court allowed them to make their case in federal court instead. But when the case made its way to the Supreme Court, the court ruled that the Prop. 8 supporters had no standing and tossed it out.

So what, you ask? This: The court appears to have handed a veto power over initiatives they don't like by refusing to defend them in court. So opponents can get a friendly judge and it's game over for voters.

California voters aren't outraged about this as the consensus on gay marriage has shifted since the original vote five years ago. But technically the Supreme Court didn't even rule on this issue. The issue was standing, and the voters didn't have it.

The purpose of the initiative process is to provide citizens with a way to make an end run around politicians when they are not doing the people's business. This is something the term limits movement has made the most of. Rarely do legislatures adopt term limits; more often they pull out all stops in opposing them.

Some fear the June decision gives politicians one more weapon against citizens who want to limit their power. Stay tuned.