June 26, 2013

Supreme Court Decides Hollingsworth v. Perry

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court decided Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144, holding that, because their only interest was to vindicate the constitutional validity of a generally applicable California law, proponents of Proposition 8, which limited recognition of marriages to opposite-sex marriages, lacked standing to appeal the District Court's order permanently enjoining the enforcement of Proposition 8.

In 2008, the California Supreme Court held that limiting the official designation of marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the due process and equal protection guarantees of the California Constitution. Later that year, California voters passed Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that added a new article to the California Constitution stating that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. The California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 against a procedural challenge, concluding it was properly enacted under California law.

Two same-sex couples who wish to marry filed suit in Federal District Court to challenge the constitutionality of Proposition 8 under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The California officials responsible for enforcing California's marriage laws were named as defendants but declined to defend Proposition 8 (although they continued to enforce it). The District Court permitted the official proponents of Proposition 8, who submitted the proposed initiative to the California attorney general, to intervene. The District Court concluded that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and permanently enjoined its enforcement. The proponents appealed. The Ninth Circuit certified to the California Supreme Court the question whether the proponents had a particularized interest in the initiative's validity or the authority to assert the State's interest in its validity. The California Supreme Court answered that California law authorized the proponents to assert the State's interest in the initiative's validity but did not respond regarding whether the proponents have a particularized interest. The Ninth Circuit concluded the proponents had standing under federal law and affirmed.

The Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit's decision and remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the proponents did not have standing to appeal the district court's order. To have standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, the litigant must prove that he "has suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct, and is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision."

Article III also requires that persons seeking appellate review must satisfy the standing requirement. The proponents were the only parties who sought to appeal the District Court's order, and they had no "direct stake" in the outcome of their appeal. Their only interest was to vindicate the constitutional validity of a generally applicable law, which is insufficient to confer standing. The Court stated that, under California law, the proponents had a unique and distinct role in the initiative until the voters approved it. But once it was enacted, it became a "duly enacted constitutional amendment or statute" and the proponents no longer had a personal stake in defending its enforcement distinguishable from the general interest of every California resident. Nor did the proponents have the ability to assert an interest on California's behalf under the rule in Powers v. Ohio because they had suffered no injury in fact.

As for the California Supreme Court's answer to the certified question regarding authority to assert the State's interest, the Court noted that the proponents hold no office and they have always participated in the litigation solely as private parties. The Court determined that the California Supreme Court's decision allowed the proponents to argue in defense of Proposition 8 but it did not make them de facto public officials or agents of the State. "[N]o matter its reasons, the fact that a State thinks that a private party should have standing to seek relief for a generalized grievance cannot override our settled law to the contrary." 

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion for the Court, in which Justices Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan joined. Justice Kennedy filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor joined.

Download Opinion of the Court

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