LGBT issues

  • April 18, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Whether Justice Antonin Scalia is toiling away in the cloistered halls of the Supreme Court or speaking before right-wing think tanks or groups of law school students he has over the years proven a knack for annoying large swaths of people. And does anyone believe Scalia cares?

    What Scalia has done is to tamp down a handful of Supreme Court reporters who for years assured us the conservative justice was the high court’s sharpest thinker and nimblest writer and witty too. Those reporters, however, have had to give up the narrative thanks in large part to Scalia’s increasingly cranky, bizarre, racially insensitive, and unnecessarily over-the-top commentary. It has also helped that a lot more people call out Scalia for his ridiculousness. He might thrill American Enterprise Institute or the Federalist Society, but others paying attention are increasingly seeing a serial offender, with a wobbly way of interpreting the Constitution.

    He’s on bit of a roll this year. In February during oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder, the case involving a challenge from a largely white community in Alabama to the Voting Rights Act’s integral provision, Section 5, Scalia said the Act perpetuates racial entitlement. But Scalia couldn’t stop there; he had to add flippantly that the reason Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act was that lawmakers couldn’t bring themselves to vote against a measure with such a “wonderful name.”

    What these offensive and flippant asides have to do with the constitutional and other questions before the high court is anyone’s guess. It’s likely the acidity was all theatrics.

    The high court in Shelby will hopefully decide the case by looking at the text and history of the Constitution, in particular the 14th and 15th Amendments, which give Congress great discretion  in creating and enforcing appropriate laws to ensure that states do not discriminate in voting. Scalia’s disdain for the Voting Rights was evident, so it is likely he’ll find a way to contort so-called “originalism” to argue for gutting the law’s primary enforcement provision. (Section 5 requires states and localities, mostly in the South, with long histories of suppressing the minority vote to obtain preclearance from a federal court in Washington, D.C. or the Department of Justice before altering their voting procedures, to ensure they do not intentionally or unintentionally discriminate against minority voters.)

    This week during a talk before some law students in Washington, D.C., Scalia piled on, telling the students that Section 5 is an “embedded form of “racial preferment.”

    George Washington University law school professor Spencer Overton pushes back against Scalia’s racially charged attack on the Voting rights Act.

  • April 17, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Mary Bonauto and Paul Smith. Ms. Bonauto is the Civil Rights Project Director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in Boston. She was lead counsel in the Goodridge Massachusetts marriage case in 2003. Mr. Smith practices law in Washington, D.C. and argued the landmark Lawrence v. Texas gay rights case in the Supreme Court in 2003.


    We are co-counsel in two of the lawsuits challenging the Defense of Marriage Act that are now awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor. We principally chose “DOMA” as a litigation target because it so clearly denies gay and lesbian married couples the equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Constitution -- treating those married couples, and only those couples,  as though they are single for purposes of all 1,100-plus federal laws that take marital status into account. Significantly though, DOMA also involves a decision by Congress to second-guess the choices made by individual states that have married same-sex couples. By defining “marriage,” for all federal purposes, as limited to heterosexual unions, the law vitiates the States’ determination that married same-sex couples are married for federal purposes. The ability to say who is married has been the virtually exclusive domain of the states -- not Congress -- and is bounded only by other constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection.

    We have always felt that this limited federalism aspect of the DOMA litigation is also helpful on the equal protection challenge. In our briefs (as in Edie Windsor’s in the Supreme Court), the fact that states control marriage policy in this country is used to undercut the claimed justifications for discriminating based on sexual orientation that have been offered up by the law’s defenders.  Although neither we nor Windsor raised these claims, one state, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has its own pending case in which it argues that DOMA undermines state prerogatives to license marriages for same-sex couples as it does for others. A prominent amicus brief by conservative legal scholars filed in the Windsor case also sounded concerns that DOMA goes beyond defining marriage for federal purposes and interferes with state law. And at the Supreme Court arguments on March 27, Justice Kennedy and others asked questions suggesting they might agree that DOMA violates principles of federalism.

    But the prospect that the Court might give considerable weight to federalism in a decision invalidating DOMA has caused grave concerns among some progressive observers – most notably Linda Greenhouse in her recent column ominously named “Trojan Horse.” The primary concern she expressed was that a decision invalidating DOMA on federalism grounds would, by emphasizing the primacy of states in setting marriage policy, somehow immunize from constitutional challenge those states that have chosen not to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. But this concern reflects a mixing of constitutional apples and oranges.

  • April 4, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Holning Lau, Associate Professor of Law, University of North Carolina School of Law

    In my home state of North Carolina -- the most recent and probably last state to amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriage -- I have been fielding lots of questions from local couples wondering what impact, if any, the Supreme Court’s pending marriage cases will have here. The cases arose in California and New York. How might litigation that started so far away change things in our neck of the woods?

    The cases before the Supreme Court -- Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor -- are unlikely to have any immediate legal impact on same-sex couples in places like North Carolina. With that said, the cases can accelerate change in our part of the country, and they have already given us a lot to celebrate. In this post, I will use North Carolina as an example to elaborate on these points, but my underlying analysis can be applied to any one of the many states that currently, like North Carolina, offer no legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

    Immediate legal impact

    Let’s start with why the two cases probably won’t directly or immediately affect legal rights in North Carolina. Hollingsworth is the case about Prop 8, the ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in California. The case concerns whether a state can deny same-sex couples the right to marry. The Court could take Hollingsworth as an opportunity to declare that no state, including North Carolina, is permitted to deprive same-sex couples of that right. Indeed, I helped to prepare an amicus brief that supports that conclusion and I certainly welcome it. Conventional wisdom, however, is that the Court won’t make such a bold move. Some supporters of marriage equality counsel against a bold move, fearing the backlash that it would foment.

    Based on last week’s oral arguments, I suspect most of the justices are struggling to choose between dismissing the case on procedural grounds and striking down Prop 8 in a way that minimizes spillover effects to other states. I doubt that a majority of the justices will vote to uphold Prop 8.

    Dismissing the case on procedural grounds (discussed more fully here) would allow the Court to avoid having to either strike down or uphold Prop 8. It would simply be saying that, for technical reasons, the case is not properly before the Supreme Court. If the Court adopts this reasoning, Prop 8 would be unconstitutional because the California couples prevailed in lower court. However, because the Supreme Court itself would not be saying anything about same-sex marriage, states beyond California would remain unaffected.

  • April 3, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Even before the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in two cases dealing with government discrimination of gay couples who want to get married, a growing chorus of legal scholars and others urged the high court to move slowly. Because, according to these folks, if the justices declare that lesbians and gay men have a constitutionally protected right to wed, a backlash against the marriage equality movement could be unleashed.

    And proof for such a backlash centers on the high court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion, which found that the right of privacy includes the right of women to make their own decisions on abortion. According to proponents of moving slowly on marriage equality, Roe sparked a backlash against growing support of abortion and now we have state after state trying to trample the fundamental right. Therefore the backlash proponents argue that the justices should learn from Roe and avoid handing down a ruling that would end government discrimination against gay couples seeking to wed. This backlash story has been fueled in part by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who while defending the Roe decision, said the Court moved to fast.

    But as an editorial in The New York Times notes, the backlash proponents are basing their argument on a “false reading of politics before and after Roe v. Wade ….” The editorial cites the work of ACS Board Members Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel, both teach at Yale Law School, documenting the fact that the fevered opposition to reproductive rights was forming long before the high court handed down Roe.

    In a 2010 interview with ACSblog, highlighting their Before Roe v. Wade book, Greenhouse and Siegel said the documentation they collected for the book showed “that, contrary to the commonly expressed view that it was the Supreme Court and its decision that unleashed a ‘backlash’ against abortion reform, a vigorous counter-movement was forming well before Roe. In the late 1960s, as public support for liberalization surged, the Catholic Church helped organized an anti-abortion movement to oppose liberalization in every state legislature and court considering abortion laws. Strategists for President Nixon’s 1972 re-election then decided to denounce ‘permissive’ abortion laws to attract Catholics from their longtime affiliation with the Democratic Party and court the support of a ‘silent majority.’”

     

  • March 29, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    During oral argument in the case raising constitutional challenges to California’s anti-gay law, Proposition 8, Justice Antonin Scalia sought to help out the attorney defending the law, by providing him “some concrete things.”

    One of the supposed concrete things Scalia pushed, as The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein notes, was anything but. Scalia claimed that there is “considerable disagreement among” sociologists over the effects on children raised by same-sex couples. But as Klein reports that is simply not true and Scalia should have known that.

    In a friend-of-the-court brief before the high court, the American Sociological Association said, “The clear and consistent consensus in the social science profession is that across a wide range of indicators, children fare just as well when they are raised by same-sex parents when compared to children raised by opposite-sex parents.”

    Klein blasts Scalia for pushing a supposedly “concrete” example of the harm that could occur if states were to stop excluding same-sex couples from marriage. “Scalia offered no details or evidence of this considerable disagreement among sociologists, and it’s hard to believe he’s a better judge of the profession than the ASA, whose brief he notably declined to mention,” Klein wrote.