The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 30, 2013

States left wondering about future initiatives

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Activists on both sides of the bitter fight over same-sex marriage managed to agree on one thing in the wake of Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The justices, they said, set a worrisome precedent by giving elected officials undue power over ballot initiatives.

The court essentially voided Proposition 8, a measure placed on the state ballot by foes of gay marriage and passed by voters in 2008. The justices said supporters of the initiative had no standing to defend the measure after state leaders — who opposed the law — had refused to do so.

Their reasoning drew a testy dissent from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a Sacramento native, who wrote that the decision “disrespects and disparages” California’s political process — a staple of which is the ballot initiative.

The court, Kennedy wrote, did “not take into account the fundamental principles or the practical dynamics of the initiative system in California.”

Many in the state, regardless of their views on same-sex unions, shared Kennedy’s sentiment, fearing that elected officials now have permission to scuttle initiatives they dislike by simply deciding not to defend them in federal court.

“The initiative process, by its nature, is designed to bypass elected officials,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a group named for the man who transformed California government in 1978 with Proposition 13, a ballot initiative that reined in property taxes.

“Anything that vests power in those elected officials over the initiative process is a dangerous move,” Coupal said.

Even Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, an early supporter of same-sex marriage when he was San Francisco’s mayor and an opponent of Proposition 8, expressed such reservations.

“I couldn’t be more excited about” the victory for gay marriage, he said. But the justices’ action raises “legitimate questions on all sides about the power of elected officials to … trump and deny the will of the voters.”

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