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State justices speak to people's initiative power

March 5, 2009 | 11:18 am

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George speaks during arguments on the constitutionality of Prop. 8. Justices of the California Supreme Court seemed reluctant today to override the will of the people as expressed by  the narrow majority vote to effectively ban gay marriage with Proposition 8.

Before supporters of the November ballot measure even got their chance to speak to the court in San Francisco, the  justices appeared to be warning Proposition 8 opponents that their arguments that the vote should be invalidated could be viewed as an excessive use of judicial power.

The state Constitution talks about "the great power of the people" and their right to amend the guiding principles, said Justice Joyce L. Kennard. "As judges, our power is very limited. We would like to hear from you why this court can willy-nilly disregard the will of the people to change the Constitution."

Chief Justice Ronald M. George observed that the court's decision on whether Proposition 8 deprives gay citizens of an inalienable right "is going to have implications for future efforts if everything that could conceivably be characterized as an inalienable right is outside the people's initiative power."

Former Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth M. Starr, representing the backers of Proposition 8, opened his hourlong argument to the  court with the insistence that "the right of the people is inalienable to control their Constitution through the initiative process."

Justice Ming W. Chin asked Starr if the people of California have the right to change their Constitution in a way that violates the U.S. Constitution.

Pointing to the late Justice Stanley Mosk's criticism of the re-institution of capital punishment as "macabre," Starr replied that "the people do have the raw power to define rights."

-- Carol J. Williams

Photo: California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George speaks during arguments on the constitutionality of Prop. 8. Credit: Paul Sakuma

Prop. 8 photo gallery

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