California: the Prop 71 trial courtroom phase ended yesterday, but there’s no decision yet. According to the Oakland Tribune
, in a story that has been widely printed in other papers, the judge’s ruling is expected in about a month. She took closing arguments in writing on Thursday and has asked for post-trial briefs to be done by March 15, at which point she will begin considering. Then after she issues her ruling there will almost certainly be an appeal. Another article, from a writer for the Contra Costa Times
, that has also been widely reprinted, also recaps it and adds the information that the appeal must be filed within 30 days.
And, speaking of appeals, in Missouri a three judge panel of the Court of Appeals listened to the arguments about the proposed amendment to the constitution. The legal argument in this case by the plaintiffs is that the language in the summary of the ballot initiative is misleading. An AP story reprinted in the Kansas City Star
says the court took the matter “under advisement” and did not say when to anticipate a ruling.
So in both these cases what we have is a situation where the legal challenge is being mounted on grounds other than embryonic stem cell research. The legal challenge is being mounted because of opposition to embryonic stem cell research but that’s not the nature of the argument. In California, the issue has to do with structure, accountability, and fiscal matters; in Missouri it’s about language.
Two points about this: first, this is the way the law frequently works in civil matters. (It may in criminal too, I don’t have experience with criminal law.) Language matters, and law requires that language be precise. Also, law is often about procedure. That’s one of the reason cases take so long. Parties have specified amounts of time to bring about certain motions, etc. This also applies to the rules for making new laws. Language, rules, and procedure can all be evaluated in a way that complex moral or ethical issues cannot be. So if you can find a failure—even an ambiguity—in language or rules or how something was done, you can have solid legal ground for getting something overturned.
Second, this means that whatever the final ruling turns out to be, even if goes all the way to the US Supreme Court, there’s not going to be a decision on the legality of embryonic stem cell research or therapeutic cloning. That’s beyond the scope of the argument. If in California it is ruled that the CIRM has unconstitutional conflicts of interest, or if in Missouri the ballot language is deemed ambiguous, then the parties have to go back to the drawing board and rewrite/restructure what they want. But the status quo of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning will be the same. There will certainly be consequences as far as what decisions researchers make about where to perform their research, but the ethical debates will continue as they have.