State Supreme Court Declines To Hear Lawsuits Challenging Constitutionality of State Stem Cell Research Program
The California Supreme Court on Wednesday denied requests to hear two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 71, approved by voters in November 2004 to create the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Sacramento Bee reports. The court said both lawsuits could be refiled in state Superior Court.
The Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee for CIRM and opponents of Proposition 71 both sought to expedite court proceedings by asking the Supreme Court to decide the lawsuits "without going through the usual process of trials and appeals," the Bee reports (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 3/24).
The constitutional challenges could delay plans to issue the first research grants in May, Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) stated in briefs filed with the Supreme Court on March 14.
Taxpayer organizations and groups opposed to stem cell research filed two legal challenges on Feb. 22 with the Supreme Court to immediately stop CIRM from distributing funds.
The Life Legal Defense Foundation, a group that opposes stem cell research and abortion rights, filed one lawsuit alleging that Proposition 71 improperly distributes $3 billion in public funds without legislative oversight. Two taxpayer groups, People's Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation, were listed as plaintiffs in the suit.
The second suit, filed on behalf of the not-for-profit group Californians for Public Accountability and Ethical Science, alleged that Proposition 71 violates the single-subject rule for propositions by allowing funding for types of research other than stem cell science. The suit also claimed that the initiative breaches conflict-of-interest laws by requiring each member of its oversight committee to be selected from universities, research foundations, disease advocacy groups and biotech firms that could benefit financially from stem cell research (California Healthline, 3/15).
ICOC Chair Robert Klein said, "We would have preferred for the California Supreme Court to rule on this litigation" (Los Angeles Times, 3/24). Klein said, "[T]here will be some delay, but we intend to keep it to an absolute minimum." He said he planned to present an alternate funding plan to ICOC at its April meeting in Los Angeles.
David Llewellyn, attorney for CPAES, said the organization would probably refile its suit in Superior Court (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/24). He added that he likely would challenge in court any attempt by the state to sell bonds to finance CIRM research grants.
Llewellyn said the Supreme Court's decision "may have been prompted by the correct inference that there are other issues that could have been raised but were not because we couldn't present evidence about them."
Dana Cody, an attorney in the LLDF case, said the court's decision was "disappointing because ... Proposition 71 is a big money grab." She had not decided whether to re-file LLDF's lawsuit.
Lockyer spokesperson Nathan Barankin said that the state could issue the bonds through other legal actions, known as bond validation proceedings, if the lawsuits were re-filed. "[W]e want to get the questions resolved as quickly as possible," Barankin said (Sacramento Bee, 3/24).
Deputy Attorney General Tamar Pachter said, "As long as there's a challenge pending, there's a cloud over issuance of the bonds" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/24).