The Supreme Court announced that it has agreed to hear U.S. v Windsor, which challenges the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. The American Civil Liberties Union brought the case on behalf of Edith “Edie” Windsor, who was billed $363,000 in federal estate taxes after her wife died in 2009. The New York couple had married in Canada in 2007, and their marriage was recognized in the state of New York.
According to this afternoon’s Order List that was issued by the Supreme Court (PDF: 48KB/2 pages):
12-307: UNITED STATES V. WINDSOR, EDITH S., ET AL.
The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following questions: Whether the Executive Branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this Court of jurisdiction to decide this case; and whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives has Article III standing in this case.
The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) took over the active defense of DOMA after the Justice Department announced that they did not believe that DOMA could survive a constitutional challenge under heightened scrutiny, the standard by which the Department argued that DOMA should be judged. Both the Federal District Court judge and the Second Circuit Court Appeals agreed with the Justice Department on both accounts: that DOMA should be examined under heightened scrutiny, and that under that level of scrutiny DOMA fails constitutional muster by violating the Equal Protection clause under the Fifth Amendment.
The added question about BLAG’s standing in the case is something of a surprise. As with the Prop 8 case — Timothy Kincaid has more on that here – the court has given itself an escape hatch to rule on standing without having to rule on the merits. As Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog explains:
It is obvious now why the Court took as much time as it did: the selection process must have been rather challenging, and the compositon of the final orders equally so. The Court, one might say in summary, has agreed to take up virtually all of the key issues about same-sex marriage, but has given itself a way to avoid final decisions on the merits issues.
The court is expected to hear arguments sometime in March, with a final decision in June.