ACSBlog

  • June 26, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Joseph Thai, Watson Centennial Chair in Law and Presidential Professor, University of Oklahoma College of Law

    In the rearview mirror of history, today’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges will one day appear as obvious and inarguable to almost every American as other landmarks in our Nation’s journey toward equality. Like Loving v. Virginia (1967), which invalidated bans on interracial marriage, and Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which invalidated segregation, Obergefell will stand as a cherished American monument not just to the realization of greater equality, but also to the struggle and sacrifice to get there. And, as with perhaps the most powerful of American monuments ‒ the Lincoln Memorial ‒ Obergefell should not only turn our contemplation to the past, but moreover should direct our reflections to the future.

    In the eloquent words of Justice Kennedy, from an earlier decision on which today’s builds, “times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress.” What will be those “certain truths” which we cannot see today, just as barely a generation ago a majority of the Court ‒ and no doubt most of the country ‒ deemed the claim of equality for same-sex couples to be, “at best, facetious”? I do not know.

    Perhaps future generations will find our failure to address crippling inequality of income and opportunity to be as willfully blind as past generations’ acceptance of separate but equal. Or perhaps our posterity will judge the demographics and conditions of mass incarceration to be as discriminatory and violative of human dignity as we do the machinery of justice under the Ancien Régime. But even if we had the benefit of tomorrow’s hindsight today, would we have the humility and courage to accept it? After all, Justice Harlan’s dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) spoke from the future, and no one else signed on.

  • June 26, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Suzanne B. Goldberg, Director of Columbia Law School's Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law, and Executive Vice President for University Life at Columbia University.

    By striking down state laws that shut same-sex couples out of marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court has put an end to a long and painful chapter in our country’s history and, at the same time, created an opening for a new wave of civil rights, safety, and justice advocacy.

    For so many years, with heightened intensity in the past two decades, states have denied same-sex couples access to marriage and the rights, recognition, and responsibilities that go along with it.  The terrible consequences are familiar: longtime partners kept from each other at hospitals, children and parents torn apart, humiliation and cost to people like the man at the heart of today’s decision, James Obergefell, whose marriage Ohio treated as nonexistent after Obergefell’s spouse, John Arthur, died in 2013.

    Familiar now, too, is the dramatic shift in the marriage equality landscape.  With increasing momentum, voters, legislatures, and courts around the country have reversed course on “defense of marriage” acts and rejected second-class citizenship for gay and lesbian couples.

    Without Supreme Court action, the nation was destined to maintain a discriminatory patchwork of marriage laws for years to come. The Court’s decision, in other words, reinforced the American tradition that courts, legislatures, and the general public each have a role in securing justice.

  • June 26, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Lara Schwartz, Professorial Lecturer, American University School of Public Affairs

    Much will be written, and is being written as we speak, on the Court’s historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized same-sex couples’ fundamental and equal right to marry. As someone who teaches constitutional law to undergraduates, most of whom have never read a judicial opinion when they enter my class, I will say this: I will hold class outside the day we discuss Obergefell, because I will not need a blackboard. This opinion will be the easiest reading assignment I’ll ever give them.

    Of all of the concepts I teach them, they struggle most with the concept of standards of review. Fortunately for them, the term “standard” does not appear in Justice Kennedy’s soaring, poetic opinion. Nor does “rational basis,” “heightened scrutiny,” or “compelling interest.” “Dignity,” on the other hand, appears nine times. This is as it should be, because the case was so simple.

    In plain English, for any American who is parsing this opinion today, I offer the following:

    The question before the Court in Obergefell was: Are gay people really people? It has always come down to this: If gay people are like other people, there is no compelling, important, or even rational basis to deny them the rights accorded to others. If gay people are as fully human as others, living in equal families, then laws that label same-sex couples and their children as legal strangers are repugnant to our Constitution.

  • June 26, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Yesterday, Senator Chuck Grassley again delayed a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on judicial nominees. Luis Felipe Restrepo, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit, Travis Randall McDonough, to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, and  Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr., to be United States District Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee, are still waiting to be voted out of committee.

    Senator Patrick Leahy released a statement urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to perform its job of voting on judicial nominees. Leahy pointed out that “the Republican-led Senate has not confirmed a single judge this work period.”

    Alliance for Justice notes that this type of delays are becoming a pattern for Senator Grassley, and he has created three consecutive weeks without a confirmation hearing. The Wall Street Journal questions whether the Senate has truly turned a corner with Republican leadership. The article notes that “the Senate is on pace to confirm the fewest judicial nominations of any recent Congress.”

    There are currently 60 vacancies, and 28 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 19 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.

  • June 25, 2015

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Following today’s Supreme Court opinion in King v. Burwell, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson moderated a briefing about the outcome in the healthcare case featuring Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and Elizabeth G. Taylor, executive director of the National Health Law Program.

    Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the 6-3 majority concluded in part that the intent of Congress mattered a lot and that the Affordable Care Act did not include a provision to destroy the law’s aim to expand health care coverage. “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not destroy them,” Roberts wrote for the majority, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

    In the call Chemerinsky noted that while the chief justice’s opinion relied on some of the plain language of the ACA, the majority also relied on context and the intent of Congress.  Beyond noting Justice Antonin Scalia’s “sarcastic” dissent in King v. Burwell, Chemerinsky said Scalia failed to advance his long-held view that only the plain language of the law should rule the day.

    “It is Justice Scalia who has been so outspoken in saying, ‘We only look at plain language, we don’t look at things like legislative history.’ But a majority of the Court has never taken that position,” Chemerinsky said. “Just because Justice Scalia says it loudly and often still does not make it a majority approach from the Supreme Court.”

    Overall the high court interprets statutes in context. Rarely has the court interpreted statutes on text alone, Chemerinsky said.

    Taylor agreed, saying that the scheme of the health care reform law was to provide health insurance across the board.

    “I think this is a great day, it’s a relief to have this challenge over with,” Taylor said.

    Taylor, however, added that more work lies ahead to expand healthcare coverage, noting that many states have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA, leaving millions without the ability to receive quality healthcare coverage. 

    Chemerinsky also lauded Roberts and Kennedy for rising above the partisanship that has surrounded the Affordable Care Act since its consideration in Congress and after its enactment in 2010. Chemerinsky, author of The Case Against The Supreme Court, was pleased the chief justice and Kennedy were able today to transcend the partisanship and uphold a law intended to better the lives of millions of Americans.

    Though Chemerinsky cautioned against reading too much into Roberts’ votes to uphold the Affordable Care Act against two major challenges.

    Instead, Chemerinsky said there is something else underlying the chief justice’s work, which could help explain his votes in the cases challenging major provisions of the ACA.

    “I think Chief Justice John Roberts’ inclinations are much more pro-business than pro-states’ rights,” Chemerinsky said. “Both decisions benefit business, the insurance business. I just think he’s less inclined to accept the states’ rights arguments than other conservatives.”

    Audio of the call is available here.