Tyranny of the majority - Page 4

Supreme Court makes the Prop. 8 debate about equal protection and separation of powers

8 are being short-sighted: "What they may like today when they have 51 percent of the vote, tomorrow they may be on the 49 percent side and may not like that basic rights come down to majority rule."

And that's why the issue gets elevated to the larger question of whether this is a case of tyranny of the majority, something that could become an issue for the federal courts, which is likely to see cases challenging whether lax California standards on precedent-setting initiatives might run afoul of bedrock principles in the US Constitution.

"Yes of course you could challenge it in the federal court," Choper said. "If Prop. 8 stands, someone will bring a case about whether discrimination against gay marriages violates the equal protection clause of the federal constitution."

Herrera said he doesn't want to go there yet, but he left that door open in response to a question from the Guardian: "Are there potential federal issues down the road that could be raised or discussed? It's no secret that's potentially there, but at this point, I don't think that's something that we're going to focus on."


While the judges and lawyers in this case may focus on narrow legal concepts and definitions, Herrera is seeking to present the case in a far grander context.

"Equal protection under the law is what separates constitutional democracy from mob rule tyranny and it is a principle that reaches back eight centuries to the Magna Carta and it has guided the founding of our nation and our state," he said. "So I understand that on same-sex marriage, the emotions on both sides run high, but it's important to understand the legal stakes are even higher. The cases before the high court today are no longer about marriage rights alone. They are about the foundations of our constitution. And as citizens we share the blessing of a common jurisprudence, and I refuse to accept that it is beyond us to find common ground in its enduring and deeply American principles: equality under the law, separation of powers, and an independent judiciary."

Ravel reinforced Herrera's perspective, telling reporters, "The Supreme Court is going to decide, as Dennis said, a question that goes to the very foundation of our democracy and that will also impact every city and county in the state. The court has held, previously, that all couples have to be treated equally when it comes to the important institution of marriage. A majority of voters can't undercut the court's role in protecting minorities in our society."

Essentially, this is no longer a case about same-sex marriage.

"The merits of the case are different than they were back in May. The fact of the matter is the California Supreme Court found there was a fundamental right to marry and that LGBT couples are entitled to that right. The issue here is should Prop. 8 be struck down because it was an improper amendment versus a revision," Herrera said. "So I think everybody is focused on the right issues." *