Most commentators, including the VC’s own Dale Carpenter, have concluded after the Proposition 8 oral argument that the Supreme Court is unlikely to strike down the California law banning gay marriage. I predicted such an outcome last year, and in this recent post, pointing out that the Supreme Court is unlikely to announce a nationwide right to gay marriage at a time when 41 states still deny it, and that there is no logical way for the Court to justify a “minimalist” decision that would apply to California alone.
Nonetheless, I think many people have been too quick to bury the anti-Proposition 8 cause after Tuesday’s argument. I agree with Dale and others that the Court may well dismiss the case on standing grounds. But if it reaches the merits, it is far from certain that Proposition 8 will survive. As most experts agree, the four liberal justices are likely to vote to strike down Proposition 8. So they would need to pick up only one conservative justice to get a majority. The key swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy, expressed skepticism about some of the plaintiffs’ arguments. But he also suggested he is considering the possibility that Proposition might constitute sex discrimination, in which case it would be subject to heightened “intermediate” scrutiny that it probably cannot survive. Moreover, he expressed concern about the 40,000 children being raised by gay and lesbian couples in California. Finally, it is difficult to gauge the impact on Kennedy of a striking concession made by Charles Cooper, the lawyer defending Proposition 8:
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Outside of the - outside of the marriage context, can you think of any other rational basis, reason, for a State using sexual orientation as a factor in denying homosexuals benefits or imposing burdens on them?