In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the petitioners who brought the appeal on Prop 8 to the 9th Circuit had no standing to do so.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion on this one, which you can read in full here, and he was joined by Justices Scalia, Ginsberg, Breyer, and Kagan. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of legalese in the opinion that basically comes down to whether a petitioner has standing in state court versus federal court, and he concludes that the proponents of Prop 8 never had that standing to appeal the 2010 decision of federal Judge Vaughn Walker. And since the California attorney general at the time (Jerry Brown) refused to defend Prop 8, it wasn't up to some random citizens to try to do so. To wit:
It was their “unique legal status” as official proponents—not an agency relationship with the people of California—that petitioners claimed “endow[ed] them with a significantly protectable interest” in ensuring that the District Court not “undo[ ] all that they ha[d] done in obtaining . . . enactment” of Proposition 8.... More to the point, the most basic features of an agency relationship are missing here. Agency requires more than mere authorization to assert a particular interest. “An essential element of agency is the principal’s right to control the agent’s actions.” ... Yet petitioners answer to no one; they decide for themselves, with no review, what arguments to make and how to make them. Unlike California’s attorney general, they are not elected at regular intervals—or elected at all. ... As one amicus [brief by Walter Dellinger] explains, “the proponents apparently have an unelected appointment for an unspecified period of time as defenders of the initiative, however and to whatever extent they choose to defend it.” ...
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. We decline to do so for the first time here. Because petitioners have not satisfied their burden to demonstrate standing to appeal the judgment of the District Court, the Ninth Circuit was without jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The judgment of the Ninth Circuit is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
Kennedy composed the dissenting opinion, discussing the standing question, and was joined by Alito, Thomas, and Sotomayor. Strangely, this means that the swing vote everyone was counting on, Kennedy, is here actually defending California's initiative process, but he's not exactly talking about the merits of the Prop 8 case, or gay marriage, at all. He writes:
In the end, what the Court fails to grasp or accept is the basic premise of the initiative process. And it is this. The essence of democracy is that the right to make law rests in the people and flows to the government, not the other way around. Freedom resides first in the people without need of a grant from government. The California initiative process embodies these principles and has done so for over a century.
This appears to open the door for gay marriages to resume in California, as the SF City Attorney, Dennis Herrera, is expected to discuss at a news conference this morning. Per SCOTUSblog, if you carefully read Roberts' opinion, it finds that the proponents had no standing to appeal, but it does not question their standing to bring the challenge in the original 2010 case. "The Supreme Court only found no standing by the Prop 8 proponents to appeal. It did not question the standing of the Prop. challengers to challenge the law. So the district court had jurisdiction; the court of appeals did not."
SF Mayor Ed Lee posted this simple tweet upon hearing the news:
It's about time!!!— Edwin Lee (@mayoredlee) June 26, 2013
Additional reporting/analysis by Jay Barmann.