Appeals Court Upholds Constitutionality of Stem Cell Agency
A three-judge panel in a San Francisco state appeals court on Monday voted unanimously to uphold California's stem cell agency, rejecting lawsuits questioning its constitutionality, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/27).
California voters in 2004 approved Proposition 71 to create the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and provide $3 billion in taxpayer funding over 10 years for stem cell research. The funding primarily was intended to finance human embryonic stem cell research, for which federal funds are restricted.
The California Family Bioethics Council, People's Advocate and National Tax Limitation Foundation were appealing an April 2006 ruling in an Alameda Superior Court that the agency's $3 billion in taxpayer funding was constitutional and that the agency was legal and accountable to the public.
The plaintiffs in 2005 filed suit to challenge the measure's constitutionality because they claimed that state elected officials do not have direct control over how the $3 billion could be spent (California Healthline, 2/15).
The state has not issued bonds to fund the agency while the legal challenges are pending (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/27).
The court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that Proposition 71 violates a state constitutional provision requiring state supervision over any agency that distributes public funds. The judges noted that 24 of the agency's 29 board members are appointed by elected state officials and the rest are appointed by UC chancellors (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/27).
The plaintiffs argued that the UC chancellors are not public figures because they are not appointed by elected officials; however, the court said that UC chancellors are appointed by regents, who are appointed by the governor.
The Bioethics Council argued that the stem cell agency's board includes officials from universities that could benefit from research grants. However, the court said Proposition 71 prohibits board members from voting on grants to their own institutions.
The judges also rejected the plaintiffs' claim that Proposition 71 violated the state's "single subject" law for ballot initiatives because the measure contains more provisions than only stem cell funding. The court ruled that the provisions of the measure ensured that stem cell research would not be affected by potential overlaps with other medical research (Kravets, Sacramento Bee, 2/27).
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said the court ruling is a "victory." He added, "I always believed the courts would uphold the will of California voters" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/27).
Dana Cody, who represents two groups in the lawsuit, said, "Chances are we probably will" appeal the ruling to the California Supreme Court (Los Angeles Times, 2/27).
Robert Klein, CIRM chair, said, "[G]iven the strength of this decision, the Supreme Court may deny review" (Johnson, San Jose Mercury News, 2/27).