Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013)
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Whether California’s Proposition 8, a voter-enacted ballot initiative that amended the California Constitution to allow only marriage between a man and a woman, violated the rights of same-sex couples to marriage under due process and equal protection provided by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, and whether if California, having previously recognized same-sex marriage, can over-turn the this law through a referendum.
In February, 2004 “the mayor of San Francisco instructed county officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.” In response, “the California Supreme Court ordered San Francisco to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses” and later nullified those same-sex marriage licenses. Soon after, various parties filed actions in state court to challenge or defend the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage in California. These actions were consolidated for hearing.
The plaintiffs argued that excluding same-sex couples from the definition of marriage violated equal protection.
The Court Below
The United States District Court of the Northern District of California was the first to hear the case. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, citing that the amendment to California’s Constitution violated the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. See opinion below:
Perry, et al. v. Schwarzenegger, et al., 704 F.Supp.2d 921 (N.D. Cal., 2010)
The case was then appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court had a question about whether the proponents of a ballot initiative, Prop. 8 in this case, have a particularized interest in that initiative’s validity, which would give them standing to defend their proposition if the public officials who have a duty to defend the initiative, fail to do so. The outcome of that question would determine whether the Ninth Circuit has jurisdiction to preside over the case. See opinion below:
Kristin M. Perry, et al. v. Schwarzenegger, et al., 628 F.3d 1191 (9th Cir., 2011)
While that question was pending before the California Supreme Court, the defendants filed a motion to vacate the previous district judgement of Judge Walker because, while presiding over the case, Walker was in a same-sex relationship. The United States District Court, Northern District California, denied the motion to vacate judgement, citing that the sole argument that Judge Walker was in a same-sex relationship is not enough for recusal or disqualification. See opinion below:
Kristin M. Perry, et al. v. Arnold Schwarzenegger, et al., 790 F.Supp.2d 1119 (N.D. Cal., 2011)
The Supreme Court of California accepted the request from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to decide a question of law, underlying their case. The court affirmed that “the official proponents of the initiative are authorized under California law to appear and assert the state’s interest in the initiative’s validity and to appeal a judgement invalidating the measure when the public officials who ordinarily defend the measure or appeal such a judgement decline to do so.” See opinion below:
Kristin M. Perry, et al. v. Brown, et al., 52 Cal.4th 1116 (Cal., 2011)
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, after the California Supreme Court decided the question underlying their case, ruled in favor of the plaintiff. Their ruling affirmed the district court’s original ruling in favor of the plaintiffs on the grounds that Prop. 8 was not “rationally related to California's interest in childrearing and responsible procreation,” among other things and denied the Prop. 8 proponents’ motion to vacate judgement. See opinion below:
Kristin M. Perry, et al. v. Brown, et al., 671 F.3d 1052 (9th Cir., 2012)
The defendants appealed to the Supreme Court, who decided to hear the case. The court ruled that, while California law allows for private parties to “have standing to seek relief for a generalized grievance,” state law cannot override settled federal law. The Supreme Court ruled that the Ninth Circuit did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case, holding that the proponents of Prop. 8 did not have standing to make their appeal in the first place.
Hollingsworth, et al. v. Perry, et al., 133 S.Ct.2652 (U.S., 2013)
Question before the Court
“In this case, petitioners, who oppose same-sex marriage, ask us to decide whether the Equal Protection Clause ‘prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.’”
CCJ filed an amicus curiae brief in support of petitioner
To briefly summarize the argument, the initial proponents have standing to defend Proposition 8 as agents of the State and in their own right. California law recognizes a fundamental right of citizens to propose initiatives, and this right becomes a particularized interest for citizens who serve as an initiative’s official proponents. Neither Due Process nor Equal Protection requires the redefinition of marriage to encompass anything other than a union of one man and one woman.
The initial proponents have standing to defend proposition 8 as agents of the State and in their own right. The principle purpose of the initiative power in California is to allow the people to act directly, when their government officials will not. California law authorizes proponents of initiatives to stand in as agents of the State to defend the initiative they sponsored, at least when government officials will not, thereby providing them standing in federal court for Article III purposes.
California law also recognizes a fundamental right of citizens to propose initiatives, and this right becomes a particularized interest for citizens who serve as an initiative’s official proponents. While the California Supreme Court did not address this issue in Perry v. Brown, previous decisions by the California Supreme Court, and several lower state courts, suggest that proponents of initiatives do have a distinct and particularized interest in their own right. Were this not the case, then the initiative process California holds dear would be meaningless, as the state government could simply opt not to defend a challenged initiative if they do not like its contents.
Neither Due Process nor Equal Protection requires the redefinition of marriage to encompass anything other than a union of one man and one woman. The fundamental right to marry recognized in Loving v. Virginia as protected by the Due Process Clause was explicitly tied to the procreative purposes of marriage. Equal Protection analysis is only triggered if people who are “similarly situated” are treated differently. Fundamentally, the issue here is who makes the policy judgement about the purpose of marriage, the people, or the courts.
The Supreme Court of the United States did not rule in support of the petitioners and ruled against the CCJ position.