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What Does Court Overruling Prop 8 Say for Future of Democracy?

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Gay rights supporter Vin Testa waves a rainbow flag outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on June 26, 2013 in Washington, DC. The high court is expected to rule on the DOMA and Prop 8 gay marriage cases. Credit: Getty Images

Some critics from both sides of the aisle have warned that the recent Supreme Court decision overturning California's Prop 8 sets a bad precedent, contradicting the will of the people in the results of a state ballot initiative in favor of the opinion of unelected judges. The Washington Times reports that some worry that the decision effectively gives state officials the unchecked power to nullify ballot initiatives they dislike by refusing to enforce them or defend them in court.

“I think regardless of what anybody thinks about same-sex marriage, everyone who cares about democracy should be concerned about this decision,” said John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. “It’s fundamentally undemocratic.”

The national revolt against higher taxes arguably began with a California citizen initiative: Howard Jarvis‘ Proposition 13 in 1978. Over the years, the state’s voters have weighed in on such hot-button issues as term limits, bilingual education, affirmative action, medical marijuana, punishment for crimes, government debt and, in 2008, same-sex marriage.

But the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., essentially held that those who draft, finance and campaign for the initiatives can’t get into the courtroom to defend their handiwork.

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” Chief Justice Roberts said in the majority opinion. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

Beyond social issues, "Wilkow!" was joined Tuesday by Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation to discuss what the court ruling on Proposition 8 means for democracy.


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