Judge Denies LGBT Orgs, Grants San Fran Request to Join Prop 8 Challenge

Protests erupted in California - and across the country - following the passage of Proposition 8 in California, now being challenged in federal court by two of the nation's most prominent lawyers, Ted Olson and David Boies.

Protests erupted in California - and across the country - following the passage of Proposition 8 in California, now being challenged in federal court by two of the nation's most prominent lawyers, Ted Olson and David Boies.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker set a rather quick trial date of January 2010 in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger lawsuit challenging the constitutional validity of Proposition 8 and has denied the request of several LGBT community groups in California — represented by the ACLU, Lambda Legal and NCLR — to intervene in the case.  The similar request of the Campaign for California Families, which had supported Proposition 8, to intervene also was denied.

Judge Walker did, however, grant the request of the City of San Francisco to intervene.  According to Lambda Legal’s Jason Howe, the judge “said they showed a government interest that wasn’t represented by any of the current parties.”

Additionally, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, a new organization created for this lawsuit, has announced that Judge Walker has set the trial in the case for January 11, 2010.  That represents a very quick trial, in terms of federal court timelines, and will keep the parties very busy over the coming months.

Chad Griffin, the board president of AFER, said in a news release, “Proposition 8 compels our government to treat people differently under the law simply because of who they are. That injustice cannot be corrected fast enough.”

[For great coverage at the hearing -- and pictures -- check out this follow-up guest post from Michael Petrelis.]

What the intervention rulings mean is that Ted Olson and David Boies, along with San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, will be the lawyers now controlling this challenge to Proposition 8, considered by many to be the most broad, grand-scale attack on marriage discrimination of all those brought in recent years.  It is not yet clear how Vaughn ruled in terms of whether both plaintiff groups — the AFER plaintiffs and the City Intervenor-Plaintiff — will be responsible for all decisions or whether Walker named one lead plaintiff in the case.

Of the city’s intervention, Herrera said in a news release, “In terms of our unique public sector perspective and the evidence we’ve already developed, we think the City is an extremely well-prepared co-plaintiff in the kind of trial Judge Walker envisions.”

The ramifications of an appellate or Supreme Court ruling would have impact far outside California’s borders, with a success for the plaintiffs calling into question other state amendments banning lesbian and gay couples from marrying, as well as the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The LGBT legal organizations,  who expressed “disappointment” and called the decision “troubling,” now will be limited to filing amicus briefs, memoranda submitted to the court representing the views of non-parties who have an interest in the outcome of the case.  At the trial court level, they will not have the ability to participate in depositions or request discovery.  On appeal, they will have the option of requesting time at the oral argument, though, at this point, it is unclear how willing the plaintiffs will be to consent to any potential argument-sharing arrangement.  In short, this has moved the LGBT legal organizations to the periphery of a very prominent and potentially landmark case.

[Thanks to Pam Spaulding, @marcambinder, @waymonhudson, the folks at TAPPED and Joe.My.God for the links.  The LGBT legal organizations' news release can be found below the jump.]

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The release from the LGBT legal organizations:

LGBT Community Groups Disappointed By Court’s Denial To Join Federal Prop 8 Case

SAN FRANCISCO — Today Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco denied the request of Our Family Coalition; Lavender Seniors of the East Bay; and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) to join Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a federal lawsuit challenging California’s Proposition 8.

A statement by Lambda Legal, the ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights:

On behalf of our clients, we are disappointed that the court did not permit organizations that represent California’s diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community to participate in the case as the Court weighs the harms inflicted by Proposition 8. The significance of this case for our entire community is enormous. To exclude the people whose very freedom is at stake is troubling. Our commitment to restoring marriage for all Californians is unwavering, and we will continue to do everything within our power to secure full equality and justice for LGBT people.

More to come . . .

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About the Author

Chris Geidner is the award-winning senior political & legal reporter at BuzzFeed and has written for Metro Weekly, The Atlantic Online, The American Prospect, Advocate.com, Salon and other publications, as well as at his blog, Law Dork. He has appeared regularly on television commenting on current affairs, including MSNBC, PBS, HLN & Current. Prior to moving to D.C. in 2009, he served as an attorney on the senior staff at the Ohio Attorney General's Office and had earlier worked for a leading Columbus law firm. An extended biography can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter.