During an hour of oral arguments, several justices appeared skeptical that only elected state officials may defend measures passed by voters, as gay-rights lawyers claimed.

If that were the case, same-sex marriages would resume in California because Gov. Jerry Brown and Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris have refused to appeal last year’s federal ruling against Proposition 8.

Justice Ming W. Chin observed that the power of the people to enact laws would be curtailed if initiatives could be blocked in court every time officials refused to defend them.

“So the attorney general and the governor get to pick the laws they want to enforce?” asked Chin, a conservative on the court.