Stephanie Rugolo is the editor of The Rugolo Report and holds an M.A. from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.
A strange thing happened in the Supreme Court’s recentHollingsworth v. Perry decision. Even though this case focused on California’s Proposition 8 that banned gay marriage, the court was split, with both liberals and conservatives comprising the majority and dissenting parties. It turns out that the rationale by which the Court’s majority decided the Hollingsworth case led to the justices’ scrambled ideological divisions. The Court’s reason for striking down Prop 8 limits civilians’ ability to legally defend initiatives, a disturbing limit to democratic liberties.
Proposition 8 was a citizens’ initiative passed in 2008 elections. A citizens’ initiative is unlike most laws passed by elected legislatures. Instead, these laws are initiatives of the citizens—that is, they are the result of independent citizens gaining enough signatures to get a proposed law on the ballot.
When gay couples brought a suit against Prop 8 that found the law unconstitutional, the State of California had no intention of appealing the decision. After all, neither the former nor current Californian administrations passed it in the first place, as it was a citizens’ initiative. Consequently, individual proponents of Prop 8 volunteered to appeal the decision in court. That raised questions of standing—whether Prop 8 supporters had a tangible stake in the case and thus a right to appeal. The Ninth Court found they did have standing before finding Prop 8 unconstitutional.