Experts: Prop 8 ruling may dodge high court

9th Circuit panel crafts its decision striking down California amendment narrowly, avoids question of whether other states can ban marriage

Prop8

DAY OF DECISION | Supporters of marriage equality react outside the courthouse after a federal appeals court declared California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional on Tuesday, Feb. 7 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, Lea Suzuki)

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Conservative critics like to point out that the federal appeals court that just declared California’s same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional has its decisions overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court more often than other judicial circuits, a record that could prove predictive if the high court agrees to review the gay marriage case on appeal.

Yet legal experts seemed to think the panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals that struck down the voter-approved ban on Tuesday, Feb. 7 purposefully served up its 2-1 opinion in a narrow way and seasoned it with established holdings so the Supreme Court would be less tempted to bite.

The appeals court not only limited the scope of its decision to California, even though the 9th Circuit also has jurisdiction in eight other Western states, but relied on the Supreme Court’s own 1996 decision overturning a Colorado measure that outlawed discrimination protections for gay people to argue that the voter-approved Proposition 8 violated the civil rights of gay and lesbian Californians.

That approach makes it much less likely the high court would find it necessary to step in, as it might have if the 9th Circuit panel had concluded that any state laws or amendments limiting marriage to a man and a woman run afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s promise of equal treatment, several analysts said.

“There is no reason to believe four justices on the Supreme Court, which is what it takes to grant (an appeal) petition, are champing at the bit to take this issue on,’’ University of Michigan law school professor Steve Sanders said. “The liberals on the court are going to recognize this was a sensible, sound decision that doesn’t get ahead of the national debate … and I don’t think the decision would be so objectionable to the court’s conservatives that they would see a reason to reach out and smack the 9th Circuit.’’

Lawyers for the coalition of religious conservative groups that qualified Proposition 8 for the November 2008 ballot and campaigned for its passage said they have not decided whether to ask a bigger 9th Circuit to rehear the case or to take an appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

However, they said they were optimistic that if the high court accepts an appeal, Tuesday’s ruling would be reversed.

“The 9th Circuit’s decision is completely out of step with every other federal appellate and Supreme Court decision in American history on the subject of marriage, but it really doesn’t come as a surprise, given the history of the 9th Circuit, which is often overturned,’’ Andy Pugno, the coalition’s general counsel, said in a fundraising letter to Proposition 8’s supporters. “Ever since the beginning of this case, we’ve known that the battle to preserve traditional marriage will ultimately be won or lost not here, but rather in the U.S. Supreme Court.’’

Regardless of their next steps, gay and lesbian couples were unlikely to be able to get married in California anytime soon. The 9th Circuit panel’s ruling will not take effect until after the deadline passes in two weeks for Proposition 8’s backers to appeal to a larger panel, and the earliest the Supreme Court could consider whether to take the case would be in the fall.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who was named to the 9th Circuit by President Jimmy Carter and has a reputation as the court’s liberal lion, wrote Tuesday’s 80-page majority ruling with concurrence from Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, an early appointee of President Bill Clinton. Judge Randy Smith, who was the last 9th Circuit judge nominated by President George W. Bush, dissented.

In tailoring the decision to apply only to California, Reinhardt cited two factors that distinguish Proposition 8 from the one-man, one-woman marriage laws and constitutional amendments in the other 9th Circuit states and that he said demonstrate that it “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and humanity of gays and lesbians.’’

The first is that California since 2005 has granted same-sex couples all the rights and benefits of marriage if they register as domestic partners.

The second is that five months before Proposition 8 was enacted as a state constitutional amendment, the California Supreme Court’s Court had legalized same-sex marriage by striking down a pair of laws that had limited marriage to a man and a woman. California is the only state, therefore, where gays have won the right to marry and had it stripped away.

The amendment’s “singular’’ work of denying gay Californians the designation of marriage while leaving in place domestic partnerships proves that Proposition 8 deprives same-sex relationships of society’s dignity and respect, Reinhardt wrote.

“A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but to the couple desiring to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name of ‘registered domestic partnership’ does not,’’ he said. “We are excited to see someone ask, ‘Will you marry me?’, whether on bended knee in a restaurant or in text splashed across a stadium Jumbotron. Certainly, it would not have the same effect to see, ‘Will you enter into a registered domestic partnership with me?’”

The opinion goes on to draw parallels between California’s same-sex marriage ban and the Colorado opinion the Supreme Court struck down on a 6-3 vote after concluding that it was based on moral disapproval of gays. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in that case, known as Romer v. Evans, and if the court agrees to take up Proposition 8, the similarities could hit the “sweet spot’’ that might persuade him to side with four other justices in upholding the 9th Circuit, said Douglas NeJaime, an associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“Everyone is looking to Justice Kennedy, assuming that Justice Kennedy would not issue a sweepingly bad decision for gay rights, and yet people don’t know if he is ready to go so far as to say nationwide same-sex couples can get married,’’ NeJaime said. “I think the opinion evidences a real savviness about the posture of this case and its position in the trajectory of a national movement for marriage for same sex couples.’’

Smith, the lone dissenting judge, disagreed that Proposition 8 necessarily served no purpose other than to treat gays and lesbians as second-class citizens. He pointed out that its backers claimed it could serve to promote responsible child-rearing among opposite-sex couples, and said courts were obligated to uphold laws in the face of civil rights challenges unless they were “clearly wrong, a display of arbitrary power (or) not an exercise of judgment.’’

“There is good reason for this restraint,’’ Smith said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Court won’t release videos from Prop 8 trial

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — A federal appeals court refused Thursday to unseal video recordings of a landmark trial on the constitutionality of California’s same-sex marriage ban but said it needed more time to decide if a lower court judge properly struck down the voter-approved ban.

Siding with the ban’s supporters, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the public doesn’t have the right to see the footage that former Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker had produced with the caveat it would be used only by him to help him reach a verdict.

Chief Judge Walker “promised the litigants that the conditions under which the recording was maintained would not change — that there was no possibility that the recording would be broadcast to the public in the future,” a three-judge 9th Circuit panel said in a unanimous opinion.

The 2010 trial over which Walker presided lasted 13 days and was the first in a federal court to examine if prohibiting gay couples from marrying violates their constitutional rights.

It was open to the public and received widespread media coverage, so the recordings would not have revealed any new evidence or testimony.

Walker, who has since retired and revealed he is in a long-term relationship with another man, originally wanted to broadcast the trial in other federal courthouses and on YouTube.

The U.S. Supreme Court forbade him from moving forward with that plan after the ban’s sponsors argued that distributing trial footage could subject their witnesses to harassment.

At the time, the 9th Circuit did not allow the federal courts within its jurisdiction to televise trials. The appeals court since has adopted rules that would permit trials to be broadcast under limited conditions.

“The 9th Circuit correctly ruled that when a trial judge makes a solemn promise, as Judge Walker did by assuring the parties that the trial video would not be publicly released, the judiciary must not be allowed to renege on its pledge,” said Austin Nimocks, a lawyer for the coalition of religious conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8,

“To rule otherwise would severely undermine the public’s confidence in the federal courts by breaching the bond of trust between the people and their justice system,” he said.

The 9th Circuit has said it wanted to resolve the public release of the trial videos before it addresses the more substantive issue of whether Walker correctly struck down Proposition 8 on federal constitutional grounds.

The appeals court panel heard arguments about that a year ago, but does not face a deadline for making a decision.

A coalition of media organizations, including The Associated Press, and lawyers for the two couples who successfully sued to overturn Proposition 8 in Walker’s court have petitioned to have the Proposition 8 trial recordings made public on First Amendment grounds. The group maintained the ban’s backers have not proven their witnesses would be harmed if people got to see what they said under oath.

Walker’s successor as the chief U.S. district judge in Northern California, James Ware, agreed in September and planned to unseal the videos. In its Thursday ruling, the three-judge 9th Circuit panel said Ware had erred and ordered the recordings kept under seal.

“The integrity of our judicial system depends in no small part on the ability of litigants and members of the public to rely on a judge’s word. The record compels the finding that the trial judge’s representations to the parties were solemn commitments,” the appeals court said.

The panel also refused to return to Walker a copy of the recordings that Ware gave his colleague upon his retirement last year. Walker had used snippets of footage in public talks about the value of broadcasting court proceedings, but gave it back while the skirmish over the videos played out.

Gay rights advocates said they wanted to use the recordings to try to puncture political arguments used by opponents of same-sex marriage, but that Thursday’s decision would not be an insurmountable obstacle to that goal.

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who serves on the board of the group funding the effort to overturn Proposition 8 in court, has written a play called 8 based on the trial transcript and interviews from the 2010 court fight that will premiere in Los Angeles next month with a cast that includes George Clooney, Jamie Lee Curtis and Martin Sheen.

“The fact that (the marriage ban’s backers) have gone this distance to keep the tapes from the American public, what it has done and increasingly will do, is inspire efforts that we will help lead to make sure the public knows what happened in the courtroom,” said Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

—  John Wright

Appeals court rejects ‘homophobic panic’ claim

Lawyers for Robert Van Hook, convicted of murdering gay man in 1985, told court psychological reports could have supported his claims of mental disease

Van-Hook.Robert

Robert Van-Hook

LISA CORNWELL  |  Associated Press
editor@dallasvoice.com

CINCINNATI — A federal appeals court on Tuesday, Oct. 4 upheld an Ohio man’s death penalty for killing a man he met in a gay bar in 1985, rejecting claims that prosecutors violated his rights by not providing psychological reports showing he may have been motivated by “homophobic panic.”

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a lower court’s ruling upholding the death penalty for Robert Van Hook, 51. The panel also rejected claims of ineffective counsel.

Van Hook’s attorney, Keith Yeazel, said Tuesday that he will either appeal to the full 6th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court after he has a chance to review the ruling.

The Supreme Court in November 2009 reversed an earlier decision by the 6th Circuit panel that had found ineffective trial counsel, and the panel said Tuesday that it was bound by the high court’s decision.

Van Hook’s latest appeal argued that the psychological reports showing he may have been motivated by “homophobic panic,” or rejection of his homosexual urges, rather than robbery, could have been used to support his claim of mental disease. The reports also would have been used to counter the murder element of “specific intent to cause the death of another person” and the aggravated robbery factor contributing to the death penalty, the appeal stated.

Van Hook claimed temporary insanity, but never denied strangling and then stabbing David Self to death at his Cincinnati apartment.

Prosecutors said he lured Self to the apartment with the intention of robbing him. He then mutilated Self’s body with a kitchen knife, hiding the murder weapon in the corpse before fleeing to Florida, where he was arrested and confessed.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Court throws out Log Cabin’s DADT challenge

Now that “don’t ask, don’t tell” has been repealed, a federal appeals court today declared moot Log Cabin Republicans’ lawsuit challenging the policy — and vacated a district judge’s ruling that said DADT was unconstitutional.

Log Cabin has argued that having the case declared moot could open the door for a future administration to reinstate DADT, which was repealed effective Sept. 20.. And the group continues to blame President Barack Obama for the Justice Department’s decision to litigate the case.

“Log Cabin Republicans v. United States said more than ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ should be repealed — it stood for the fundamental constitutional rights of servicemembers not to be discriminated against by the nation they serve,” LCR Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper (pictured) said in a statement responding to today’s ruling. “President Obama should be ashamed that he is responsible for undoing that important precedent.”

Dan Woods, an attorney for Log Cabin Republicans, said the group plans to appeal today’s decision, which came from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“We are, of course, disappointed by today’s ruling but we will continue to fight on for the constitutional rights of all people impacted by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Woods said. “This is an important issue for all Americans and we anticipate seeking re-hearing before the full Ninth Circuit.”

—  John Wright

Supreme Court hearing on Prop 8 to be televised

The seven-member California State Supreme Court will hear arguments Sept. 6, on whether state law gives the anti-gay group which pushed for passage of  Proposition 8, the voter approved state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the right to appeal a federal court decision declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional. And unlike the initial trial in Judge Vaughn Walker’s court, the Supreme Court hearing will be televised.

Court spokeswoman Lynn Holton said, “Because of public interest in the case, the court has approved a live statewide television broadcast of the arguments on the California Channel, a public affairs network.”

According to SF Appeal, should the sponsors succeed in their right to appeal, the case will go back to the 9th Circuit federal appeals court for review, a process that might take several months — just like everything else involving the court system.

However, the federal appeals court has said earlier this year that if the sponsors lack legal standing, the federal court will be required to dismiss the appeal.

The state high court has broadcast marriage equality-related arguments before, such as In re marriage Cases, was a California Supreme Court case with the dual holding that “statutes that treat persons differently because of their sexual orientation should be subjected to strict scrutiny.”

 

—  admin

BREAKING: Appeals court won’t let marriages resume in California while Prop 8 case is decided

A federal appeals court has denied a request to allow same-sex marriages to resume in California while the lawsuit challenging Proposition 8 is decided. Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly reports:

In a brief order issued today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied the plaintiffs’ request to vacate its earlier stay order, which is keeping Proposition 8 in effect during the appeal of the Perry v. Brown challenge to the marriage amendment.

The order, from the three judges hearing the appeal:

“Having considered all of the factors set forth in Nken v. Holder, 129 S. Ct. 1749, 1756 (2009), and all of the facts and circumstances surrounding Plaintiffs’ motion to vacate the stay pending appeal, as well as the standard for vacatur set forth in Southeast Alaska Conservation Council v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 472 F.3d 1097, 1101 (9th Cir. 2006), we deny Plaintiffs’ motion at this time.”

The plaintiffs had made the request of the Ninth Circuit to lift the stay shortly after the Department of Justice announced that it would no longer be defending Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. The lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote, “The conclusion of the United States that  heightened scrutiny applies to classifications based on sexual  orientation is unquestionably correct. Proposition 8 cannot survive the  requirements of heightened scrutiny because its invidious discrimination  against gay men and lesbians could not conceivably further an important  government interest. Indeed, proponents have made no serious attempt  to defend Proposition 8 under that exacting standard.”

The ongoing consideration by the California Supreme Court of the certified question sent to it by the Ninth Circuit in the Perry case, which is delaying final resolution of the case by the Ninth Circuit, was an additional reason why the plaintiffs had requested that the stay be lifted. The California Supreme Court is considering whether the proponents of Proposition 8 have any “particularized interest” in the case or any legal right under California law to defend the proposition in court.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Sarah Palin on DOMA; anti-gay preacher Grant Storms on arrest; Prop 8 update

Grant Storms

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Grant Storms, the anti-gay Louisiana pastor who was arrested last week for allegedly jerking off in his van while looking at kids on a playground, insists he wasn’t really masturbating — he just had his hand in his pants. In a bizarre press conference Tuesday, Storms claimed that reports saying he confessed to the crime are untrue. But he also said he knows what he did was wrong, and admitted he has a problem with pornography, which he’d been looking at an hour before the incident. Also, he’s sorry for those anti-gay protests he led at Southern Decadence and is asking for forgiveness. Well, we’re not going to forgive you just yet, Mr. Storms, but we will give you some free legal advice: Shut the hell up! Towleroad has video of Storms’ press conference.

2. Taking a page out of former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert’s playbook, Sarah Palin slammed President Barack Obama for his decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. In a statement she gave to the National Organization for Marriage, Palin accused Obama of flip-flopping on DOMA, which is course patently false. Obama has said all along that he wants to repeal DOMA. We’d suggest that if Palin wants a real example of flip-flopping, she should refer back to Leppert.

3. California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a brief Tuesday in the Prop 8 case urging a federal appeals court to allow same-sex marriages to resume immediately in the state. “For 845 days, Proposition 8 has denied equality under law to gay and lesbian couples,” Harris wrote. “Each and every one of those days, same-sex couples have been denied their right to convene loved ones and friends to celebrate marriages sanctioned and protected by California law. Each one of those days, loved ones have been lost, opportunities have been missed, and justice has been denied.”

—  John Wright

Calif. Supreme Court agrees to rule on whether Prop 8 supporters have standing to appeal

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

The road to marriage equality in California just got a little longer.

The California Supreme Court said today it would make ruling on whether Yes on 8 proponents have authority, under California law, to appeal a federal court ruling that the initiative is unconstitutional.

The announcement, at 4:20 p.m. Central time today, means the California court will soon hear arguments in the landmark Perry v. Schwarzenegger case. But the question will be a procedural one only: whether there is any authority under California law that would provide Yes on 8 proponents with standing to defend Proposition 8 in a federal appeals court.

The court’s brief announcement said it would hear arguments on an expedited schedule and asked that the first briefs be due March 14 and that oral argument take place as early as September.

Once the California Supreme Court decides whether state law provides any right to Yes on 8 to represent voters on appeal, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel will then make its final determination as to whether Yes on 8 has standing to appeal. And, if the 9th Circuit says Yes on 8 does have standing, it will also rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8.

The question before the California Supreme Court was whether there is any authority under California law that would enable Yes on 8 proponents to represent voters who approved Proposition 8. The answer mattered to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel. Without any authority under state law, the appeals panel suggested, the group might not have any “standing” at all to appeal the decision. If a party has “standing,” they are sufficiently affected by a conflict to justify having a court hear their lawsuit or appeal on the matter.

When the legal team of Ted Olson and David Boies filed a legal challenge to California’s Proposition 8 in federal district court, the state, under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown, had standing to defend the law. But neither provided a defense and, instead, the Yes on 8 coalition that campaigned for the initiative did so.

When the district court found Proposition 8 unconstitutional, the state officers said they would not appeal the decision, so Yes on 8 once again sought to defend the law, this time in the federal appeals court. But both Schwarzenegger and Brown urged the 9th Circuit not to accept the appeal, saying the best thing for California was to abide by the district court ruling.

So, when the 9th Circuit panel heard oral arguments on the appeal last December, one of the first and most pressing issues it had to wrestle with was whether Yes on 8 still had “standing” to bring the appeal when the state government had decided it wanted to honor the district court decision.

What bothered the panel was their belief that the state officers — Schwarzenegger and Brown — were acquiring veto power by simply refusing to defend a voter-approved law with which they disagreed.

The panel asked the California Supreme Court to say whether there might be some authority under state law that would provide Yes on 8 with standing to bring the appeal.

The legal team challenging Proposition 8, led by Ted Olson and David Boies, filed briefs with the California Supreme Court, saying the state court should not provide such a determination because the standing issue in a federal appeals court is essentially a matter of federal law.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Court refuses to suspend lawsuit challenging DADT

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has denied the government’s request to suspend a lawsuit challenging the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued an order Friday, Jan. 28 requiring the Department of Justice to file papers by Feb. 25 arguing why the court should overturn a Southern California trial judge who declared the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy unconstitutional.

Government lawyers asked the 9th Circuit earlier this month to set aside the case because the Pentagon was moving quickly to satisfy the steps Congress outlined last month when it voted to allow the ban’s repeal. A Justice Department spokeswoman said it had no comment Saturday.

The appeals court did not explain in its order why it rejected the request. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said he expected to finalize the repeal and allow openly gay Americans to join the armed forces before the end of the year.

On Friday, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters that the training of officers and troops the Pentagon has said is a predicate to full repeal would begin in February.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the gay political group whose lawsuit challenging “don’t ask, don’t tell” persuaded District Court Judge Virginia Phillips in September to enjoin the military from enforcing the policy, had opposed the government’s effort to put the case on hold.

R. Clarke Cooper, the group’s president, said Saturday that while he thinks the Pentagon’s efforts are sincere, the case should proceed as long as gay servicemembers still can be discharged.

“We said all along to the government we would drop our case if they would cease all discharges and remove all barriers to open service,” Cooper said.

Cooper, an Army reserve officer, said he knew of at least one service member facing a discharge hearing next month, even as the Pentagon moves forward with its training plan.

“We are not questioning the implementation process. We recognize the need for a deliberative process for implementing proper training materials and guidances for leadership,” he said. “But when you have a servicemember going before a discharge panel, this is kind of a ‘left hand-right hand’ thing that is happening.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Dad says gay teen’s death not suicide; ex-cop gets jail in rape of transsexual

Lance Lundsten

1. Gay Minnesota teen Lance Lundsten was laid to rest Tuesday night, but questions remain about what caused his death. Some news reports have suggested that Lundsten, 18, took his own life in response to anti-gay bullying at school. However, Lundsten’s father maintains that he died from coronary edema, a condition caused by an enlarged heart. Autopsy results will take several weeks.

2. A former San Antonio police officer accused of raping a transsexual prostitute was sentenced to one year in jail on Tuesday. The former officer, Craig Nash, pleaded guilty to official oppression after prosecutors agreed in exchange not to charge him with sexual assault by a police officer, which carries a life sentence. Prosecutors also agreed not to pursue an allegation by a man who said Nash raped him a few years earlier.

3. A federal appeals court in Louisiana today will hear a case involving two gay dads who simply want both of their names listed on their adopted child’s birth certificate. A federal district judge and a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have already ruled in the gay couple’s favor, but the bigoted state attorney general is appealing the decision. The couple is represented by Lambda Legal’s Ken Upton of Dallas, who warns of a “gaping loophole” in the doctrine of full faith and credit if the decision is overturned: “An exception that permits states arbitrarily to ignore legal parent-child relationships as families travel throughout the United States would create unprecedented chaos and harm.”

—  John Wright