Have you been following our Prop 8 trial coverage? Perhaps you’ve wondered about the larger legal issues in the trial, or don’t understand why this one judge makes the decision, or what happens if we win, or what “suspect class” means. Well, we also have questions and don’t understand things! The trial is on pause until Tuesday, so we’d like to take this opportunity to drop some legal knowledge all over your beautiful bodies:
Meet Jessica, a real live lawyer! She’s about to blow your mind with facts and explanations like it’s her job because, incidentally, it is! Jessica works for a legal publishing company where she writes and edits articles that explain legal developments to people who didn’t go to law school. Aren’t you glad she gave up on her initial dream of becoming the world’s first dancing astronaut?
After reading this, you can probably join a law firm or run for Senate. At the very least, we hope you’ll be able to re-explain this Prop 8 stuff to your family and friends, which will make you look just as smart as Jessica.
This is just a little warm-up, a Q&A of questions that Riese had for Jessica. She’s writing a longer piece that will debut very soon.
Do you have questions for Jessica? Ask away in the comments, and she’ll work it into her next piece!
Riese: There’s only one judge! Does he get to decide everything?
Jessica: At the trial court level (the first place a case is heard), one judge is standard. You only get multiple judges on appeal. (Most of the time, the cases that make headlines are already on appeal, and therefore have multiple judges). For now, one judge has all the power. But regardless of what this judge decides, this case will be appealed. Not all cases are, but clearly somebody is going to be unhappy with the outcome, and you can always appeal a trial court decision.
This doesn’t mean that everything in this stage will be thrown out, though. Everything has to be entered into evidence at the trial court level. On appeal, the attorneys will be arguing procedural matters and debating legal precedents, but these arguments will be grounded in the existing court record established at trial.
Because the case is in federal court in California, it will be appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (circuits are divided up by geographic region). The Ninth Circuit has been allotted 29 judgeships, and a panel of these judges will hear the appeal. Then it’s up to the panel: whoever gets the majority of votes wins.
Again, regardless of what happens at the circuit court level, this case will be appealed because someone is going to be unhappy. But the Supreme Court doesn’t have to hear the case. They get to choose. Sometimes they wait until several circuits have had a chance to weigh in on a controversial issue. Sometimes they just don’t want to touch controversial topics. Sometimes they’re too busy. Really, it’s entirely within their discretion.
Riese: Does the other side go next?
Jessica: Plaintiffs (our side) plan to wrap up their arguments by Wednesday. Then it’s the other side’s turn. And then we will collectively cry, because they’ll present their witnesses who will undoubtedly all be jerks and liars. (I’m not biased at all.)
Riese: Do the Prop 8 defenders actually believe what they’re talking about, or are they appointed by the state?
Jessica: That depends on who you’re talking about. The lawyers may or may not believe in anything aside from arguing. Lawyers are paid to be the strongest advocates they can be for a cause regardless of their personal feelings. Chances are, the lawyers that signed on for this also believe in the cause, but as long as the case is in progress, you’ll never know.
The defendants in this case are Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and “Proposition 8 Official Proponents.” Schwarzenegger has said that he supports the lawsuit because he think the conflict asks important constitutional questions that should be decided by a court. In 2008, he encouraged Californians to vote no on Prop 8, and he also expressed hope that the California Supreme Court would overturn it.
California Attorney General Edmund Brown (who was originally named in the lawsuit) decided not to defend Proposition 8, which is an unorthodox move for an attorney general, because he believes it is unconstitutional and should be struck down. He’s no longer a defendant.
However, because no one from the state was really jumping up and down to defend it, the Yes on 8 people requested the right to intervene in the case. And they were granted that right. And yes…they believe in their cause.
Riese: Why, when we lost in May, might we still win this time?
Jessica: We’re asking different questions at different levels of the court. In Strauss v. Horton (the case from May), the court was examining the propriety of the process used to amend the California Constitution (and whether Prop 8 constituted an amendment or a revision). This time, the court is examining whether Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution — specifically the due process clause and the equal protection clause.
Jessica will be back later to give you a more in-depth legal analysis of the trial! Stay tuned, you’ll know so much more before this thing gets going again on Tuesday! And if you have questions, ask them in the comments! Go Team Totally Right!