August 4, 2010
Judge Vaughn Walker issued a decision today overturning Proposition 8, finding that it violates both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection rights in the United States Constitution. Here’s a full copy of the 138-page decision.
Most of the decision (the first 109 pages) is the “factual findings.” This is crucial, and here’s why. On appeal, Judge Walker’s conclusions of law are basically irrelevant. Questions of law are decided fresh on appeal, and the trial court’s thoughts on the law are entitled to no deference. On the other hand, only a trial court can make factual findings. A Court of Appeal must give great deference to the factual findings of the trial court, especially when those findings are based on the credibility of witness testimony. Judge Walker knows this. He knows that his primary role in this case is to weigh the credibility of the evidence that was presented at trial and apply the facts that were proven to the law. But the law–unlike the facts–ultimately will be decided by nine Justices at a higher pay grade. Consequently, we should be grateful to Judge Walker for carefully and diligently going through the facts of the case, creating a detailed and compelling record for the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
In a big victory for marriage equality, Judge Walker found that the “strict scrutiny” test applies to the Due Process analysis. As its name implies, this is the most stringent of the tests that can be used to determine if a law satisfies the Due Process Clause. To satisfy “strict scrutiny,” the State must show that the law is “narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest.” On the other hand, the most relaxed standard–and the one that the anti-equality crowd argued should apply–is “rational basis review.” Under “rational basis review,” the Court will uphold a discriminatory law if the State has any rational reason for having the law. Judge Walker found that the “strict scrutiny” test applies instead of the “rational basis” test because marriage is a fundamental right. When the State takes away a fundamental right, it must have a compelling reason to do so. But going even further, Judge Walker found that even if the Prop 8 proponents were right and the “rational basis” test should apply, Prop 8 still does not pass muster. Finding that Prop 8 does not even pass the “rational basis” test, Judge Walker easily found that it could not pass the compelling interest requirement of strict scrutiny.
Turning to the Equal Protection claim, Judge Walker’s analysis is essentially the same as for Due Process. First, he found it unnecessary for the Court to determine which of the three tests (rational basis, intermediate review, or strict scrutiny) should be used to conduct the Equal Proection analysis because Prop 8 cannot satisfy rational basis review, the most relaxed of these standards. Although Judge Walker finds that the evidence shows that “strict scrutiny” probably applies, he found that he did not need to reach that decision. Second, Judge Walker goes on to show in detail why each of the arguments advanced by the Intervenors fails to provide a rational basis for Proposition 8:
- Intervenors argue that maintaining the traditional notions of marriage being between a man and a woman is a rational reason for Prop 8. Judge Walker responds by citing a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case and says: “Tradition alone, however, cannot form a rational basis for a law.” He went on to say:
Instead, the evidence shows that the tradition of gender restrictions arose when spouses were legally required to adhere to specific gender roles. California has eliminated all legally mandated gender roles except the requirement that a marriage consist of one man and one woman. Proposition 8 thus enshrines in the California Constitution a gender restriction that the evidence shows to be nothing more than an artifact of a foregone notion that men and women fulfill different roles in civic life.
- Intervenors also argued that because same-sex marriage is such a sweeping social change, California has a rational basis to implement this change incrementally. In other words, it should be allowed to first offer domestic partnerships before marriage. Judge Walker rejected this argument, finding that “The process of allowing same-sex couples to marry is straightforward, and no evidence suggests that the state needs any significant lead time to integrate same-sex couples into marriage.
- Losing touch with reality, Intervenors’ next absurd argument is that the state has a rational basis to reserve marriage for opposite-sex couples because they’re better parents and the state should promote procreation within an opposite-sex marriage. Judge Walker easily dismisses this drivel by finding that the evidence proves: “(1) same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents are of equal quality, and (2) Proposition 8 does not make it more likely that opposite-sex couples will marry and raise offspring biologically related to both parents.
- Going further afield into crazyland, Intervenors next argue that the state has a rational basis in protecting bigots rights to take away rights from people they don’t like. Holding in his laughter, Walker responds: “Proposition 8 is not rationally related to an interest in protecting the rights of those opposed to same-sex couples because, as a matter of law, Proposition 8 does not affect the rights of those opposed to homosexuality or to marriage for couples of the same sex.” Can we get a Hallelujah!
- Intervenors next argue that there’s a rational basis in calling different things by different names. They argue that it would be an administrative burden to have the same name for both opposite and same-sex unions. And imagine the chaos that would ensue if someone said that they were married and you later discovered they were a GAY! Judge Walker responds: “Proposition 8 actually creates an administrative burden on California because California must maintain a parallel institution for same-sex couples to provide the equivalent rights and benefits afforded to married couples.”
After rejecting each of the Intervenor’s arguments as to why a rational basis exists for Prop 8, Judge Walker went on to find that in the absence of a rational basis, it is safe to assume that Prop 8 exists because some people just don’t like gays and lesbians:
In the absence of a rational basis, what remains of proponents’ case is an inference, amply supported by evidence in the record, that Proposition 8 was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples. Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief hat a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate.
One quote from the decision that really sums up the feelings of many who believe in equality is:
That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant, as “fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” (Quoting a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case)
The long and well-reasoned decision concludes with this short and sweet determination that the couples who challenged Proposition 8 are correct:
Plaintiffs have demonstrated by overwhelming evidence that Proposition 8 violates their due process and equal protection rights and that they will continue to suffer these constitutional violations until state officials cease enforcement of Proposition 8. California is able to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as it has already issued 18,000 marriage licenses to same-sex couples and has not suffered any demonstrated harm as a result,see FF 64-66; moreover, California officials have chosen not to defend Proposition 8 in these proceedings.
Because Proposition 8 is unconstitutional under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, the court orders entry of judgment permanently enjoining its enforcement; prohibiting the official defendants from applying or enforcing Proposition 8 and directing the official defendants that all persons under their control or supervision shall not apply or enforce Proposition 8.
The clerk is DIRECTED to enter judgment without bond in favor of plaintiffs and plaintiff-intervenors and against defendants and defendant-intervenors pursuant to FRCP 58.
IT IS SO ORDERED.”
The elephant in the room is now the question of a stay. Yesterday, in anticipation of losing, the anti-equality Intervenors filed a motion asking the Court to stay its decision pending appeal. In other words, they argue that since an appeal is inevitable, the Judge should not enforce his ruling until after the inevitable appeal is exhausted. Judge Walker has not yet ruled on that motion. Even if Judge Walker denies the stay, the Intervenors will ask the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal to issue an immediate stay of the decision. In a case like this, a stay is very likely. It remains to be seen whether Judge Walker will grant the stay or if that issue will be decided by the Ninth Circuit.
*UPDATE* CNN is reporting that Judge Walker issued a stay. But there is no Stay Order in the Court’s docket as of this writing, only the motion by the Intervenors. I suspect CNN may have gotten ahead of itself and is publishing unconfirmed rumors. That being said, I think a stay is likely at some point (probably by the Ninth Circuit.)
*UPDATE* The Court just entered an Order shortening time for Intervenors’ motion to stay to be heard. Plaintiffs’ must file their opposition to the Intervenor’s motion to stay Friday, August 6th. The Court will decide the motion on the papers without a hearing. I suspect an order will issue very shortly after the opposition is filed, probably by Monday or Tuesday. In the interim (i.e. in the next few days until the Court rules on the Motion to Stay), the entry of the Judgment is temporarily stayed.