U.S. v. Windsor

  • 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. 

  • June 27, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Deirdre M. Bowen, Associate Professor of Law, Seattle University School of Law

    Without a doubt, the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v.Windsor No. 12-307 (June 26, 2013) offers immense hope for same-sex couples, at least for those who reside in states that allow same-sex couples to marry.

    The Supreme Court affirmed a Second Circuit opinion that determined Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, is unconstitutional as applied to New York resident Edith Windsor, the widow and executor of her wife’s estate. What is remarkable, however, is how the Supreme Court essentially ignored the Second Circuit’s rationale and developed its own.

    The Second Circuit laid out a clear Equal Protection analysis of DOMA. In doing so, it bumped up the tier of scrutiny from rational basis, which the Southern District of New York Court applied, in favor of intermediate analysis, based on its finding that lesbians and gay men were a quasi-suspect class. Specifically, the Second Circuit found, after engaging in a four-part factor analysis, that gay people have been the target of discrimination and mistreatment in public and private spheres in the United States, and this triggered an intermediate level of scrutiny. The Second Circuit then evaluated the reasons that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (“BLAG”) offered to determine whether these reasons were substantially related to an important government interest. In this task, the Second Circuit determined that BLAG had failed to demonstrate persuasive set of rationales.

  • June 26, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Beyond providing victory for equality, today’s Supreme Court opinion striking an integral provision of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act sent Justice Antonin Scalia into a fitful and contradictory rage.

    Though Scalia joined the majority opinion of Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated a congressional action, usurping Congress’ constitutional authority to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments, today he railed against the majority for invalidating Sec. 3 of DOMA, which unlike the Voting Rights Act, worked to discriminate against a certain group of people -- lesbians and gay men. So yesterday, Scalia joined his right-wing colleagues in gutting a landmark federal law aimed at preventing discrimination, while today he lodged an over-the-top dissent against striking down a provision of a blatantly discriminatory federal law. And he did so, as TPM’s Sahil Kapur notes, in fiery fashion – rather like he did in dissenting in Lawrence v. Texas issued 10 years ago today invalidating a state law discriminating against lesbians and gay men.

    According to Scalia, the majority in U.S. v. Windsor led by Justice Anthony Kennedy provided a “jaw-dropping” expansion of judicial review. “It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and every-where ‘primary’ in its role,” Scalia fumed.

    He didn’t stop there, adding the Constitution’s framers would not recognize the “black-robed supremacy that today’s majority finds so attractive.”

    Scalia, after grousing at great length, that the majority should not have decided the case, went on to provide his “view of the merits.”

    And his views on lesbians and gay men and laws that discriminate against them have not moved in 10 years.

  • June 26, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Suzanne Goldberg, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Professor Goldberg was counsel of record on an  amicus brief in support of the respondents in Hollingsworth v. Perry and was among the counsel on an amicus brief in support of the respondents in United States v. Windsor. This piece is a cross-post from SCOTUSblog.

    The Court’s decisions in Windsor and Perry – the first major gay rights rulings in a decade – are a one-two punch to the nation’s most prominent antigay laws.  Today, the Court has brought an end to the damage wrought by the federal Defense of Marriage Act on countless same-sex couples throughout the United States and left in place Proposition 8’s invalidation by the federal district court.

    Neither decision is surprising but both are gratifying.  And both reinforce the dramatic shift in the Court’s approach to gay rights – and to gay people.  Just over a generation ago, in the Court’s 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick ruling, the Court held that it was “at best facetious” that a gay person would have a constitutional right to sexual intimacy in his apartment.  Today, Justice Kennedy, in his Windsor opinion, writes that DOMA’s burden “demeans” same-sex couples and “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

    Put simply, it was almost unimaginable, when the gay rights movement took hold in the 1970s, or even as legal victories started to mount in the 1980s and 1990s, that the nation’s highest Court would find that a federal law unconstitutionally interfered with the “equal dignity of same-sex marriages.”

    Yet reaching this conclusion was not a constitutional stretch.  Relying on a forty-year old opinion striking down Congress’s discrimination against hippies (Department of Agriculture v. Moreno), the Court had little difficulty finding illegitimate stigma in DOMA’s “unusual deviation from the usual tradition” of the federal government accepting state definitions of marriage, as it struck down DOMA’s section 3, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples’ marriages.

    Ironically, the very first time the Court recognized that this equality guarantee protected gay people came in 1996 (Romer v. Evans, which struck down Colorado’s antigay amendment) – the same year of DOMA’s passage.  In essence, then, even when DOMA first arrived, the Court’s equality jurisprudence contained the seeds of its demise.