A state appeals court in San Francisco upheld the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the result of passage (by a referendum vote of 59% of California voters) of Proposition 71 in 2004. The CIRM and California's legal capacity to fund the Institute under Proposition 71 were challenged by an alliance of anti-abortion and anti-tax groups, on the grounds that the program violated state laws limiting spending, and that Proposition 71 contravened ballot initiatives and conflicts of interest laws.
The appellate court unanimously ruled that Proposition 71 "suffers from no constitutional or other legal infirmity." The court also noted that although the purpose of the Proposition was to fund research designed to find therapies "as speedily as possible," the litigation had "interfered with implementation for more than two years."
This decision, unless appealed to the California Supreme Court, will release a $3 billion research budget for stem cell research, and California will be able to both issue bonds to fund the research and distribute grant monies already awarded but awaiting this decision. Nearly $45 million has already been spent on California universities and research institutes, but this money was either obtained from private philanthropists or through state loans.
Plaintiffs in the case were the People's Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation, anti-tax groups, joined by the California Family Bioethics Council, which is affiliated with minister James C. Dobson's Focus on the Family. Among the lawyers representing the plaintiffs was Dana Cody, executive director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, an anti-abortion group.
The appellate court ruled that the program satisfied state law requiring governmental oversight, since a majority of the program's board was appointed by state officials and the program was subject to state audit. The court also rejected challenges on technical requirements of voter propositions and conflict-of-interest rules.
Although further legal challenges are possible, it appears for now that California will be able to initiate the largest stem cell program in the nation, one that is serving as a model for other states. Perhaps such efforts will stem the tide resulting from restrictive Federal government prohibitions and the Bush administration's ill-conceived stem cell policies, and prevent the U.S. from falling further behind the rest of the world in stem cell research.