U.S. v. Windsor

  • October 17, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Eric J. Segall, the Kathy and Lawrence Ashe Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law

    Prior to the oral arguments in the 2013 same-sex marriage cases involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, Supreme Court commentators committed to marriage equality debated just how fast the Court should act. On this blog, I urged the Court to strike down DOMA in the Windsor case but deny standing to the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 litigation in the hope that the logic of Windsor would lead lower federal courts to strike down state laws banning same-sex marriage. I advocated that approach fearful of the political backlash that would result from the Court creating a national rule imposing same-sex marriage on reluctant states in one bold strike.

    Those who wanted the Court to act quickly had two substantial objections. First, the Court’s job is to decide cases “under the law” not to make political predictions and calculations about the effects of those decisions. Second, gays and lesbians should not have been forced to wait one more day before achieving the marriage equality they deserve.

    Now that events have unfolded, it is important to address both of those objections (albeit with hindsight) because the arguments for and against the Court acting quickly on same-sex marriage shed important light on the appropriate role of the Supreme Court in our political system and how the Court should force important social change in the future.

  • September 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Robin Maril, Senior Legislative Counsel, Human Rights Campaign. This post is part of our 2014 Constitution Day symposium.

    Following last summer’s Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor invalidating Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government began recognizing same-sex couples nationwide for the first time. The majority of federal benefits and programs recognize couples regardless of where they live – employing a “state of celebration” standard. This standard looks to the laws of the state where the couple was married to determine the validity of their marriage. In practice, this has provided expansive recognition for legally married same-sex couples nationwide — including for federal tax purposes.

    In response to the Windsor decision, the IRS published revenue ruling 58-66 implementing a state of celebration standard for federal tax purposes and applying the generally applicable statute of limitations for requesting a refund to same-sex couples who were legally married and would have been recognized under IRS policy but for DOMA. This standard statute of limitations provides all taxpayers with an option to amend a tax return up to three years after filing. This revenue ruling therefore retroactively recognizes same-sex married couples who were legally married but were required to file as individuals because of DOMA beginning in 2010.  

  • September 18, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Adam Winkler, Professor Law, UCLA School of Law. This post is part of our 2014 Constitution Day symposium.

    In 1961, Yale Law School professor Alexander Bickel wrote a law review article extolling what he called the “passive virtues” of judicial decision-making. By this, Bickel meant that the Supreme Court might achieve better, more enduring results if instead of boldly asserting a constitutional vision the justices took small, narrow steps. He didn’t mean that the Court should stay away from controversial issues so much as lead the nation in a dialogue, venturing in on occasion to articulate important principles but allowing issues to percolate over time.

    In an era where the Supreme Court is known for its aggressive assertions of power, most notoriously in deciding a presidential election in Bush v. Gore, it may be hard to take seriously any notion of a passive or tentative Court. In recent years, some liberal scholars such as Cass Sunstein have promoted judicial minimalism, though mostly one suspects because of the conservative makeup of the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts. Yet if there is one area where the Court has seemed to follow Bickel’s lead, it is LGBT rights and, in particular, marriage equality.

    Consider that the Court has ruled on the constitutionality of laws discriminating or harming LGBT people in three major cases over the past twenty years: Romer v. Evans, striking down Colorado’s statewide ban on local anti-discrimination ordinances; Lawrence v. Texas, voiding bans on same-sex sexual relationships; and United States v. Windsor, invalidating the federal Defense of Marriage Act. These cases have been celebrated for expanding the constitutional promise of equal citizenship to LGBT people. And the justices have been criticized, too, for not going far enough. Romer refused to say that sexual orientation was a suspect classification triggering heightened scrutiny. Lawrence refused even to say that same-sex sexual activity was a fundamental right. Windsor was decided the same day as Hollingsworth v. Perry, where the Court used procedural issues to avoid ruling directly on the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage. 

    Such criticism is certainly appropriate given that the Court’s half-steps leave LGBT people in limbo. After Romer and Lawrence, federal courts continued to uphold other laws discriminating against LGBT people, such as bans on adoption. Windsor and Hollingsworth literally left LGBT people in loving relationships at the altar, still unable to marry in the majority of states. This state of affairs must be changed and soon. For many, rights delayed are rights denied.

  • February 14, 2014

    by James Colligan

    Before the movement for marriage equality began to gather steam Virginia, like a slew of other states, banned same sex-marriage either with laws or constitutional amendments or in the case of North Carolina, both.

    For instance in 2006 through a referendum Virginians voted to amend their Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage. Actually that amendment was rather sweeping, not only defining marriage as exclusively a union between a man and woman, but also prohibiting civil unions and all other contracts to “which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.”

    But some of those states’ constitutional amendments and laws, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 opinion in U.S. v. Windsor, are looking increasingly vulnerable.

    The Virginia ban was challenged last year on the grounds of violating the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment by two couples. Tim Bostic and Tony London have been together for 24 years. Carol Schall and Mary Townley have been together for 30 years. Even though Schall and Townley were legally wed in California, Virginia’s constitutional ban meant it would not recognize those same-sex marriages. The couples’ challenge to the constitutional amendment was considered in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia earlier this month.  

    Judge Arenda Wright Allen on Thursday found Virginia’s ban to subvert the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. In her ruling, Wright Allen wrote, “Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships. Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices – choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference.”

  • September 20, 2013

    by Lara Schwartz

    Every high school history student learns that since Marbury v. Madison, the courts “say what the law is.”  However, when we vote we choose those who choose our judges, which means We the People play a role in saying what the law is. Americans recognize that judges and justices approach the law from different perspectives and that their approaches affect the outcomes of cases we care about. Presidential candidates make promises about what kinds of judges they will appoint for a reason: because it matters. But what do the American people expect from our judiciary?

    We’re often told Americans want a “conservative” Court and that they are sympathetic to originalism. A poll taken after Justice Stevens announced his retirement indicated that more Americans (42 percent) wanted a new justice who would make the Court more conservative than those who wanted to see the Court become more liberal (27 percent). Some surveys hint that Americans’ views on constitutional interpretation are sharply divided: a Pew Survey found that half of Americans (50 percent) say the Court’s rulings should be based on its understanding of what the U.S. Constitution means in current times, while about as many (45 percent) say rulings should be based on its understanding of what the Constitution meant as originally written. Yet although voters might find the term “conservative” and the idea of “as originally written” appealing in principle, they don’t agree with what the conservative justices do in practice.

    Americans overwhelmingly support upholding Roe v. Wade, which has become conservative shorthand for a liberal, activist Court.  Even Roe’s supporters don’t tend to call it conservative or claim it exemplifies originalist constitutional interpretation, yet only 29 percent of Americans believe that Roe should be overturned, which is fewer than the 43 percent who believe abortion is “morally wrong.”    

    Most Americans also agree with the Court’s ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, which struck down the section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act that denied same-sex couples federal benefits. This places them at odds with the Court’s conservative bloc. By contrast, 33 percent approve of the Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, compared with 51 percent who disapprove.