Ninth Circuit declares California’s Prop 8 Unconstitutional

Image via National Youth Advocacy Coalition

 by Jacob Combs and Adam Bink of Prop8TrialTracker.com 

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals announced today their opinion in Perry v. Brown that Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-enacted ban on same-sex marriage in California, is unconstitutional. In addition, the appeals panel ruled that the proponents of Prop 8 did have standing to pursue their appeal of Judge Walker’s decision striking down the marriage ban, and upheld District Court Judge Ware’s decision denying a stay to throw out Walker’s ruling because he is gay. The ruling on constitutionality was divided on an 2-1 vote, with Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Michael Hawkins voting to strike Prop 8 down, and Judge N. Randy Smith voting to uphold the ban. The ruling regarding standing and the motion to throw out Judge Walker’s decision was a unanimous 3-0 vote.

In his August 4, 2010, decision, which the 9th Circuit upheld today, District Court Judge Vaughn Walker struck down Prop 8 as unconstitutional under both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. In his opinion, Judge Walker presented 80 findings of fact regarding same-sex marriage, which included discussions about the immutability of sexual orientation, the ability of same-sex couples to be good parents, and the inequality of providing LGBT couples with civil unions as opposed to full marriages. These findings of fact are highly significant, because while appellate courts can overturn a lower court’s decision based on its findings of law, they usually defer to those courts’ findings of fact. Today’s ruling affirms Judge Walker’s findings of fact, meaning that they can but used in the future in other trial cases in the 9th Circuit that deal with LGBT rights.

Today’s ruling is also significant because the 9th Circuit ruled that District Court Judge James Ware, who took over the Perry case when Judge Walker retired, was correct in denying a motion filed by Prop 8′s proponents to overturn Judge Walker’s decision on the grounds that he failed to disclose that he himself was in a long-term relationship with a man (which he did announce publicly after the decision was released). In a December 8 hearing on the motion to overturn Judge Walker’s decision, the 9th Circuit panel seemed deeply skeptical that Judge Walker’s ruling should be thrown out because of his orientation and relationship status. The 9th Circuit’s decision today is an important victory for the assumption of impartiality that our judicial system is based on, and demonstrates that LGBT judges are just as fit to preside over cases pertaining to LGBT rights as are their heterosexual counterparts.

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