February 7, 2012

Appeals Court Finds California's Proposition 8 Unconstitutional

The 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals in San Francisco today upheld the ruling by a lower federal court that California's controversial Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. The Court held that Proposition 8 denies same-sex couples the right to a civil marriage in violation of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and "serves no purpose... than to lessen the status of gays and lesbians in California..."

Supporters of Proposition 8 say they are prepared to take the matter all the way to the United States Supreme Court. And, despite today's ruling, a "stay" remains in place preventing the order from going into effect (allowing same-sex couples to marry) until the appeals process has been exhausted or further court order.

Additionally, the 9th Circuit found no reason that U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker should have either recused himself from the underlying case or disclosed his own sexual orientation prior to taking the case. Walker, who is gay, was found to have properly heard, analyzed and ruled on the case. Supporters of Proposition 8 also tried previously to have Walker's ruling that the law was unconstitutional thrown out to no avail.

This matter is by no means resolved, and may very likely result in an ultimate appeal to the United States Supreme Court. However, at first read, it appears that the 9th Circuit based their analysis, in large part, on the specific circumstances here in California that led to Proposition 8 in the first place; that is, the history of permitting domestic partnerships and extending marital rights to registered domestic partners (without the title) and eventually the ruling by the California Supreme Court that same-sex couples were entitled to marry under the California state constitution. Accordingly, there is a possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court may consider the ruling to apply only in California and not to other states as a whole.

Stay tuned, there's definitely more to come.

Continue reading "Appeals Court Finds California's Proposition 8 Unconstitutional" »

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June 25, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Strip Search of Arizona Middle School Girl

In an 8-1 vote, the United States Supreme Court today held that Arizona school officials who in 2003 strip-searched a 13-year-old girl while looking for prescription medications went too far and violated her Fourth Amendment privacy right that protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

Acting on an unverified tip from another student, and without contacting the young girl's parents, school officials in Safford, Arizona ordered 8th-grader Savana Redding to strip down to her undergarments, and then forced her to expose her breasts and pelvic areas to determine whether she was hiding any ibuprofen pills. No pills of any kind were found.

School officials defended their actions by arguing that the strip search was necessary for student safety, school order and to combat a growing drug problem. However, Redding had never been suspected of having illegal drugs, let alone drugs that posed a great danger to other students or to herself. Moreover, the officials could have confined Redding to the principal's office until one of her parents arrived or even sent her directly home.

"Because there were no reasons to suspect the drugs presented a danger or were concealed in her underwear, we hold that the search did violate the Constitution," wrote Justice David Souter for the majority. Had the officials merely searched her backpack, locker or outside clothes, the search would likely have been found legal instead of having been found unconstitutional.

In another part of the ruling, Souter said the school officials themselves who ordered or carried out the search were entitled to immunity from liability because of uncertainty over whether the right had been clearly established at that time. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens dissented, arguing that privacy parameters had in fact been clearly determined at that time, and that the officials should be liable. Only justice Clarence Thomas disagreed that Redding's rights had been violated.

Redding describes how she felt humiliated and violated by the explicit strip search. She said she was embarrassed, scared and on the verge of crying. As a parent myself, I was outraged when I first read about this story, and would never want my children here in California to ever have to suffer the same indignities as did Redding. I am grateful that the Court applied common sense to this case, understanding that our children are precious resources and that schools should not simply be Constitution-free zones because students are not adults. This is a win for the good guys.

More coverage is available in the NY Times and from Reuters.

For more information about California family law issues, please contact attorney Gary D. Sparks.

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June 23, 2009

Are You Ready for Marriage?

Are you ready for marriage? Is it right for you? Do you know everything you need to know about your partner before you walk down the aisle with him or her?

As a California family law & divorce attorney, I frequently discover that the answer to these questions is a resounding, "NO." Unfortunately, far too many couples don't discover that this is the answer until sometime after the marriage begins to fail.

Of all places, Oprah.com publishes an online relationships column that asks the following questions of those who are considering tying the knot:

1) Why are you getting married?

2) Do you know and trust your partner's personal history?

3) Did you plan your marriage, instead of just your wedding?

4) Are you investing more than you can afford to lose?

5) Have you identified and communicated your needs and expectations?

For those of you who chuckle because it comes from Oprah, I'd suggest you look at these questions and seriously consider them before you make the commitment to share your life, for better or for worse, with your significant other. Trust me, if you're coming to me down the road, it most certainly was because your marriage was "for worse."

For more information about California family law issues, please contact attorney Gary D. Sparks.

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