When the U.S. Supreme Court returns to work next month, it will take up three California cases. But Proposition 8, which overturned California’s gay marriage law, isn’t on the docket…yet.
Ever since California voters passed Prop 8 four years ago, challenges to the measure have slowly made their way up the legal ladder. But before it's argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, four justices have to agree to take the case.
Georgetown Law School professor Pamela Harris says, if they do, the high court will likely follow the lead of the 9th Circuit Court, which framed Prop 8 as a question of rights granted, then taken away — not as a question of whether gay marriage is constitutional. Harris believes the Supreme Court sees this as "a real legacy decision," viewed in the passage of time. She says opinions on gay marriage are changing so quickly, that the justices "may find themselves on the wrong side of history in a way that could matter to them."
Legal experts predict the Supreme Court will likely postpone any action on Proposition 8. Instead, the court may first address challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman and denies federal spousal benefits to those in same sex unions.
The high court has agreed to hear oral arguments in two California criminal cases. One involves additional federal penalties for three "violent felonies" and examines whether burglary falls in that category. Another looks at a California death penalty case where a juror was dismissed from the murder trial of a woman who drove the getaway car in a liquor store robbery. The juror expressed concern over the severity of the charge and intended to disregard the law. The court discharged the juror. The getaway driver says the dismissal violated her Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury.
The Supreme Court will also wade into Southern California's challenges with rainwater runoff. The Natural Resources Defense Council says L.A. County violates the Clean Water Act by allowing polluted runoff to flow down the concrete channels of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers. The county argues that neither waterway is "navigable" and therefore not covered by the Clean Water Act.