California's stem cell programme is now free to start distributing its $3 billion funding to researchers, following the refusal of the state's Supreme Court to consider another legal challenge. The high court upheld last year's ruling by a lower court, which upheld the constitutionality of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The state is expected to begin issuing a series of bonds to fund new stem cell research projects and laboratories from next month.
In November 2004, 59 per cent of Californians voted in favour of Proposition 71, which established the CIRM and authorised it to issue bonds to fund stem cell research in the state - including work on human embryonic stem cells (ES cells). But although some loaned money has already been spent, most of the funding remains untouched, because of lawsuits brought by an alliance of groups opposed to the programme. Last April, claimants in a lawsuit challenging the setting up of the CIRM argued that the institute was unconstitutional, because the spending of taxpayer's money must be under state control.
However, in a hearing at the Alameda County Superior Court, Judge Bonnie Lewman Sabraw ruled that the CIRM was constitutional, and that the plaintiffs 'did not present any evidence that the state is appropriating funds for any purpose or benefit other than a public purpose, the public purpose declared in Proposition 71 of fighting disease and promoting the general economy of the state'. The latest unsuccessful appeal against the decision was made to the Supreme Court by the Californian Family Bioethics Council. Dana Cody, representing the alliance of challenging groups, said: 'We are at the end of the line. We are disappointed'.
Robert Klein, chairman of CIRM, called the decision 'a great victory', adding 'our $3 billion is free from restrictions from the extreme ideological right wing'. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger echoed his sentiments, saying: 'Today's action by the California Supreme Court is a victory for our state because potentially life-saving science can now continue without a shadow of legal doubt'.