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Federal court agrees to consolidate appeals on constitutionality of Proposition 8


SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court on Monday agreed to consolidate the appeal of the 2010 ruling that declared California‘s Proposition 8 as unconstitutional, with the appeal of another federal judge’s refusal to vacate the ruling on the grounds that the presiding judge was biased.

In a one sentence ruling, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the request from the legal team representing the anti-gay coalition of sponsors of Proposition 8, the California’s 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

In the first appeal, proponents of Proposition 8 seek to overturn the August 4, 2010 ruling by former Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who struck down the ballot initiative as unconstitutional. The second appeal is of U.S. District Court Judge James Ware’s ruling denying the attempt to have Walker’s ruling vacated — proponents argued that Walker was biased because he is gay and has a partner.

By making this decision, the appellate court has set the stage for deciding all pertinent questions regarding the legal validity and merits of the constitutionality of Proposition 8, clearing the way for an unencumbered appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court — which is a likely outcome, according to legal analysts.

Last week, in a unanimous ruling, the California Supreme Court said that Proposition 8 sponsors have the legal right to defend the state’s ban on same sex marriage.

The federal court had triggered the state court’s intervention earlier this year, asking the California Supreme Court to decide whether sponsors of the state ballot measures such as Proposition 8 have legal “standing” under California law to defend those laws when top state officials abandon a case. With that issue unresolved, the 9th Circuit had put on hold its review of Walker’s ruling.

The court has yet to resolve that issue in terms of “standing” on a federal level, although it has ordered an additional briefings on the matter due by Dec. 2.

Kate Kendall, the Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, stated that the appellate court will likely to find the proponents have federal standing in light of the state court’s opinion.

In a related matter, the federal court will hear arguments on the appeal to an earlier decision that video and audio recordings from the original trial conducted by Walker can be released to the public and media organizations.

The hearing is scheduled for Dec. 8.

Monday’s ruling from U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is here (PDF).

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