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Posts for October, 2014

Did SCOTUS just bless heightened scrutiny?

Timothy Kincaid

October 10th, 2014

When Idaho presented its brief explaining why the Ninth Circuit’s ruling overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, it focused on one point. Rather than argue the same tired arguments that have lost across the country and which were insufficient to merit certiorari in the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits, Idaho argued that it was the reasoning used in the Ninth, rather than it’s conclusion, which should be reconsidered.

On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit included in its ruling:

Without the benefit of our decision in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs., 740 F.3d 471 (9th Cir. 2014), reh’g en banc denied, 759 F.3d 990 (9th Cir. 2014), the Sevcik district court applied rational basis review and upheld Nevada’s laws. Sevcik v. Sandoval, 911 F. Supp. 2d 996 (D. Nev. 2012). After we decided SmithKline, the Latta district court concluded that heightened scrutiny applied to Idaho’s laws because they discriminated based on sexual orientation, and invalidated them. Latta v. Otter, No. 1:13-CV-00482-CWD, 2014 WL 1909999, at *14–18 (D. Idaho May 13, 2014). We hold that the Idaho and Nevada laws at issue violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they deny lesbians and gays who wish to marry persons of the same sex a right they afford to individuals who wish to marry persons of the opposite sex, and do not satisfy the heightened scrutiny standard we adopted in SmithKline.

When the Ninth Circuit decided SmithKline, Abbott Labs chose not to appeal the ruling, specifically because it was their wish to leave the section on heightened scrutiny as precedent and not subject it to potential loss at the Supreme Court. So this assertion by the Ninth has not been considered by the higher court.

Which brings the denial of extended stay by the Supreme Court into a different light. It may be that SCOTUS did not predict any likelihood of Idaho’s ban being upheld irrespective of the degree of scrutiny. Or it may mean that SCOTUS sees no likelihood of the Ninth’s application of heightened scrutiny being reversed.

SCOTUS allows marriage wins

Timothy Kincaid

October 6th, 2014

fireworks

The Supreme Court of the United States has just denied certiorari to the appeals by states from three circuit districts. (ABC)

The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for an immediate expansion of same-sex marriage by unexpectedly and tersely turning away appeals from five states seeking to prohibit gay and lesbian unions. The court’s order effectively makes gay marriage legal in 30 states.

Without comment, the justices brought to an end delays in same-sex marriages in five states— Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In addition to those five states, in which marriage equality will immediately become law, the other non-marriage states within those circuits are but a formality away. Filing for equality in federal court in states within the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth districts should result in an immediate favorable decision for West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming.

The question of the constitutionality of anti-gay marriage bans generally has not yet been determined. SCOTUS could take up other districts’ appeals should they reach the court.

However, it should be noted that the decision to grant or deny certiorari is not a majority vote. It takes but four justices to decide that a court will hear an appeal. This suggests that either the conservative end of the court is hoping to wait for an appeal that better fits their opposition, or (despite long supposition otherwise) there are not four justices on the Supreme Court that oppose marriage equality and find it’s prohibition to be within the confines of constitutional enactment by the states.

The denial of cert to the three districts is not, as I noted, immediately determinative on the other districts. However, it does provide strong legal precedent – unless and until the court indicates otherwise – leaving it difficult for district judges to conclude gay marriage bans have constitutional merit. And, though it is no longer given much attention, it completely invalidates Baker v. Nelson as an argument for precedent.

At this point, it looks promising that marriage may soon come to all states.

Do they even listen to what they say?

Timothy Kincaid

May 13th, 2014

Dean Nelson

Today the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments for and against overturning Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen ruling that Virginia’s gay marriage ban was in violation of the US Constitution (the Olson-Boies case). There were, as expected, protesters on either side.

The anti-gay side made some interesting remarks.

Dean Nelson, chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, told the crowd, “Things have gotten so bad that even when you’re watching ESPN on Mother’s Day we have the kisses of homosexuals forced down our throats.”

Sometimes it’s just too easy.

SCOTUS issues Utah stay (Updated)

Timothy Kincaid

January 6th, 2014

NYTimes

The Supreme Court on Monday blocked further same-sex marriages in Utah while state officials appeal a decision allowing such unions.

The terse order, from the full court, issued a stay “pending final disposition” of an appeal to the federal appeals court in Denver. It offered no reasoning.

UPDATE from Jim B: Here’s the U.S. Supreme Court order (PDF: 27KB/1 page):

HERBERT, GOV. OF UT, ET AL. V. KITCHEN, DEREK, ET AL.

The application for stay presented to Justice Sotomayor and by her referred to the Court is granted. The permanent injunction issued by the United States District Court for the District of Utah, case No. 2:13-cv-217, on December 20, 2013, is stayed pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Marriages entered into thus far are still in effect. There just won’t be any new ones for a while. Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog speculates that “The order appeared to have the support of the full Court, since there were no noted dissents,” but “The order, however, cannot be interpreted as a dependable indication of how the Court will rule on the issue when it finally decides to do so directly.”

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals will continue with its expidited review of the lower court decision. Brief submittals occur between January 27 and February 25. No date has been set for oral arguments.

No DOMA or Prop 8 rulings today

Timothy Kincaid

June 20th, 2013

The Supreme Court did not deliver rulings on the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act or California’s Proposition 8 today. The next date for the announcement of rulings is Monday, June 24.

Monday is the last scheduled day of this year’s calendar, though the Supreme Court could schedule another day of their choosing. And while such an additional day would be expected to be within the week, as SCOTUS has neither a boss nor any constitutional restrictions, they could drag this out as long as they wish.

Marriage equality unlike Roe

Timothy Kincaid

June 10th, 2013

Some anti-gay activists have warned that a broad decision on marriage equality would have the same sort of cultural division and long-term social protest that has been the result of the decision on Roe v. Wade. James Richardson, a GOP “conservative communications strategist”, writes in the Christian Science Monitor on why that is not so.

The evolution of public opinion concerning the right to marry for gays and lesbians, too, follows a divergent track from abortion. Whereas the public sentiment on abortion has remained largely static since the Roe ruling 40 years ago, an uncommonly decisive shift in attitudes in recent years concerning gay marriage has radically reorganized the political landscape.

The support for same-sex marriage recently reached a record high, at 58 percent in a March survey by ABC News and The Washington Post. That number represents a 26-percentage-point growth over the span of just nine years. And in those 12 states where same-sex marriage is already legal, the support trend line is even more pronounced. In the few months since the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on gay marriage, three states changed their laws to afford equal rights and protections for gay marriage.

I’ll tell you when, Justice Scalia

Timothy Kincaid

March 26th, 2013

JUSTICE SCALIA: You — you’ve led me right into a question I was going to ask. The California Supreme Court decides what the law is. That’s what we decide, right? We don’t prescribe law for the future.

We — we decide what the law is. I’m curious, when — when did — when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage? 1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted? Sometimes — some time after Baker, where we said it didn’t even raise a substantial Federal question? When — when — when did the law become this?

Scalia rants as though there is no date, as though this is all arbitrary and subjective and up to some whimsical liberal social ‘living constitution’ interpretation of law. He is mistaken.

There is a date, a specific date, upon which it became unconstitutional under the provisions of the US Constitution to exclude homosexual couples from marriage.

On the day, the very first day, that a same-sex couple decided that they would avail themselves of the equal provisions of their governmental contract and seek the protections afforded by marriage, and on the very first day that this same-sex couple was told that, no, they were excluded – explicitly excluded – from the protections offered by the state because they were an unfavored people, on that specific day, Justice Scolia, the state acted in an unconstitutional manner.

Yes, the Supreme Court of the United States “decides what the law is”. But the wording of our contract – our agreement with the Federal Government that they may govern us and patrol our liberties and, at times, curtail our freedoms when necessary – is not decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. And that wording, that guarantee, allows the Federal Government to serve as our representative government only within certain confines, among which are that all citizens are provided with the same rights.

That provision exists either with or without social recognition. It exists whether or not a Supreme Court “decides” that it is the law.

It is inevitable that some day the Court will recognize – not decide – that gay citizens are equal citizens and that arbitrary animus-based discrimination such as that which Justice Scalia defends is a violation of our national contract. And some day, a Supreme Court will decide that the law is such that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a gross violation of the clear provisions of the US Constitution.

But that will not be the day in which such discrimination becomes unconstitutional. That day has passed.

NOM Rallied Today

Timothy Kincaid

March 26th, 2013

After their march, the National Organization for Marriage – along with their various supporting organizations – rallied to protect marriage from being equally applied to all citizens.

The Red Caped Loons of the Catholic organization, Tradition, Values & Property, were present

The rally surrounded the bandbox.

And they certainly had plenty of space in which to congregate.

But it’s nice to see that not much grass was damaged.

NOM Marched today

Timothy Kincaid

March 26th, 2013

The National Organization for Marriage has been declaring that they were going to turn out busloads of people to march on the Supreme Court to protect traditional marriage (in the fine old tradition of keeping rights limited to the people who they think are better than you). And they have posted pictures on their NOMblog showing their glorious march.

For Example: (NOMblog)

But NOM’s pics tend to be close up and don’t give much of a sense of size. That’s not to say there aren’t any large group pics in their photostream, but those tend to be problematic; they have rainbow flags and “Equality Now” signs in them.

Fortunately, a BTB reader had a birds eye view of NOM’s march and has offered to share some pictures that give some perspective to their “busloads”. Here they start marching past:

There they go, banners unfurled.

And the middle of the pack.

And finally, the last of the saints go straggling by.

And after months of preparation and “busloads” of support, that was their march, pretty much in total.

No, it’s not exactly pathetic; thirty or forty people would be pathetic. At what looks to me to be a few thousand people, this was … well, let’s just say Brian Brown probably found it to be a bit of a disappointing turnout.

But I fully expect NOM to claim “hundreds of thousands”.

A profile on Edie Windsor

Timothy Kincaid

December 13th, 2012

Perhaps the best profile I’ve seen to date on the plaintiff in the upcoming Supreme Court challenge comes from USAToday:

“People asked,’What could be different? You’ve lived together for over 40 years – what could be different about marriage?’” Windsor said. “And it turned out that marriage could be different.”

Do read it.

Just in: Scalia finds objecting to homosexuality is like objecting to murder

Timothy Kincaid

December 11th, 2012

Okay, that’s not news. It’s not even all that interesting.

Unless you consider that a Supreme Court justice is so extremely biased against one segment of the US population that he is incapable of viewing them as having rights at all.

Antonin Scalia was at Princeton (he has a new book to push) where he was introduced by anti-gay activist Robert George:

When questioned by Duncan Hosie ’16, who identified as gay, on his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas — which struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law — Scalia stood behind his decision. Hosie questioned Scalia’s comparison between having a moral objection to sodomy and having a moral objection toward things like bestiality or murder. Scalia defended his comparison as a form of argument.

“If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against these other things?” Scalia asked, explaining his dissent. “It’s a reduction to the absurd … I don’t think it’s necessary but I think it’s effective,” Scalia said, adding dryly, “I’m surprised you weren’t persuaded.”

But the thing about “reductio ad absurdum” is that it is but a hairs breadth from a strawman argument, an argument that argues against what is falsely presented as the opponents position.

At no point have supporters of marriage argued that no moral feelings should be considered. Rather, we assert that not all moral feelings are comparable. For example, it is perfectly possible to have moral feelings against murder (which does actual harm to actual people) and to still find that moral feelings against other people’s religions are not an acceptable basis for law.

A better comparison would have been “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against Catholicism?” But being the Pope’s proxy on the Supreme Court, I dare say that Scalia does not see anti-Catholic sentiment in the same light as anti-gay sentiment.

So, if there were any question, we have our answer. Tony will be voting against us on the rights of gay people to marriage. Or the right of gay people to adoption. Or the right of gay people to inheritance tax equality. Or the right of gay people to to eat oatmeal if it were to appear before him.

Because of his moral objections to murder, you see.

(Do you ever get the feeling that his grandchildren will change their names?)

UPDATE: Log Cabin does a good job analyzing the impact of Scalia’s views.

Prop 8 to be heard by SCOTUS

Timothy Kincaid

December 7th, 2012

The Supreme Court of the United States has granted a writ of certiorari to the appellants of Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case.

On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court found that denying same-sex couples equal access to marriage recognition was a violation of the California Constitution. Chief Justice Ronald George wrote a stirring opinion which was inspired, he told reporters, by recollections from a childhood trip through the South and the “No Negro” signs he saw there.

At 5 pm on June 16, 2008, marriage licenses became available to same-sex couples. Marriage was legal in California.

However, an initiative had been circulated and had already qualified for the ballot. And on November 4, 2008, 52.2% of California voters chose to support Proposition 8 and thus cease the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This unexpected result led to protests across the globe.

Supporters of equality went back to the California Supreme Court to argue that the proposition was improper under several different theories. The Court did not accept the logic.

But on May 23, 2009, three days before the California Supreme Court found Prop 8 to be valid, the newly created American Foundation for Equal Rights sued in federal court, asserting that Proposition 8 runs counter to protections granted by the US Constitution. And the attorney team behind the challenge was Ted Olson and David Boies, the two attorneys who had argued both sides of the election result dispute between George W Bush and Al Gore.

This federal judge assigned to the case, Judge Vaughn Walker, did something unusual; he ordered that a trial of fact would occur. This meant that attorneys could not simply come into the courtroom and make whatever claims they chose; rather, they would need to provide evidence for their assertions.

The lead plaintiffs were Kristin Perry and Sandra Steir and the lead defendant was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (whose defense consisted of “here, your honor”), so the case became Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

Because the Governor and the California Attorney General (currently Governor) Jerry Brown offered no argument in favor of discrimination, supporters of the proposition were granted standing to defend the law.

The case began in January, 2010. After a lengthy trial in which the proponents pulled all but a few witnesses (David Blankenhorn was virtually the only person on the stand for the proponents) and in which the motivations of the supporters of discrimination was the topic of newspapers and television news coverage, on August 4, Judge Walker issued a decision.

An initiative measure adopted by the voters deserves great respect. The considered views and opinions of even the most highly qualified scholars and experts seldom outweigh the determinations of the voters. When challenged, however, the voters’ determinations must find at least some support in evidence. This is especially so when those determinations enact into law classifications of persons. Conjecture, speculation and fears are not enough. Still less will the moral disapprobation of a group or class of citizens suffice, no matter how large the majority that shares that view. The evidence demonstrated beyond serious reckoning that Proposition 8 finds support only in such disapproval. As such, Proposition 8 is beyond the constitutional reach of the voters or their representatives.

At this point the state of California, through its Governor and Attorney General, accepted the ruling of the court. And that would have been that, but the proponents of Prop 8 demanded that the case be appealed. And the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the proponents could have standing to appeal the decision of Judge Walker.

The decision was stayed pending the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In December 2011, the Ninth Circuit hear argument about the constitutionality of Proposition 8. And on February 7th of this year, the Ninth Circuit found that indeed Proposition 8 violated the US Contitution, however on a narrower position. The found that having once granted marriage rights equally, a state cannot choose a single demographic from which to withdraw those rights. The left open the bigger picture of whether marriage rights, in and of themselves, cannot be subject to discrimination based on animus.

Again the proponent of discrimination appealed and again the decision was stayed.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States has announced that it will hear Hollingsworth v. Perry (the current name of the case, reflecting the challengers – headed by Hollingsworth).

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2012
CERTIORARI GRANTED
12-144
HOLLINGSWORTH, DENNIS, ET AL. V. PERRY, KRISTIN M., 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 question: Whether petitioners have standing under Article III, §2 of the Constitution in this case.

Many pundits expected a different answer. We thought that the court would allow the ruling of the Ninth Circuit to stand, thus allowing marriage under the unique circumstances in California (rights revoked) and avoid the question of marriage equality until public opinion had solidified.

And that may still be their decision. By questioning standing, they may be signaling that they will find that the Ninth Circuit hearing was not valid and that they have no path through which to even hear the challenge to Judge Walker’s ruling. (If no one other than legally elected representatives of the people had the right to appeal, then there was no appeal).

Argument before the court will be given next year and by June 2013 it is expected that the fate of Proposition 8 will be resolved.

SCOTUS deliberates

Timothy Kincaid

November 30th, 2012

Today the Supreme Court of the United States will meet and discuss a number of cases of importance to our community. The two highest profile cases are California’s Proposition 8 (currently called Hollingsworth v. Perry), and the collective challenges to the Third Clause of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Today they will decide whether to hear challenges in those cases or to let them stand. For a case to be heard, four justices must agree that they wish to deliberate the appeal. Their decisions will be announced Monday.

It’s all guesswork at this time, but my prediction (a common one) is that the judges will refuse to hear the appeal to the overturn of Proosition 8, agreeing with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that once a right has been granted to citizens, it then cannot be taken away from one group of people based on dislike or disapproval, thus returning marriage equality to California. Thus the Court can, for now, delay a decision on the larger question about the constitutionality of anti-gay marriage bans.

Should they decide to hear Perry, it may mean that the court is prepared to decide whether heterosexual and homosexual citizens have equal standing under the law.

As for DOMA3, that is clearly unconstitutional. It is almost certain to get a writ of certiorari. The cases will probably be clumped, but common wisdom suggests that the Edie Windsor case will be the vehicle through which the challenge is argued. On the face of it “gay couples should pay higher taxes than straight couples” is and argument that does not sit comfortably with pro-gay liberals or anti-tax conservatives. Also going against DOMA3 is that it is a federal usurpation of an area of law that has traditionally been left to the states.

Of course, there is a chance that the court will not even hear DOMA3 but will simply agree that this is an unconstitutional law and let it be stricken next week. Monday will be exciting no matter the decisions made today.

Another Republican judge weighs in on marriage

Timothy Kincaid

October 19th, 2012

One of the things one regularly hears during election season are “Don’t vote for that Democrat, he’ll appoint pro-homosexual judges” and “Don’t vote for that Republican, she’ll appoint anti-gay judges.” But such simplistic assumptions are seldom accurate.

And in the fight for marriage rights in the courts, more often than not the judges finding that gay people are entitled to equal treatment under the law have been appointed by a Republican president or are themselves Republicans, sometimes quite conservative ones. And in this latest ruling – one that goes further than any to date – this pattern holds (LATimes)

“Homosexuals have suffered a history of discrimination,” Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs said for a 2-1 majority. And while gays have been winning political victories, he said, they are still subject to many discriminatory laws. Jacobs said courts should view all laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation with the same skepticism accorded to laws that discriminate based on gender.

Jacobs, who has a generally conservative reputation, was appointed to the court by former President George H.W. Bush. He was joined by Judge Christopher Droney, an appointee of President Clinton. In dissent, Judge Chester Straub, another Clinton appointee, said judges should not change the traditional definition of marriage. If it is to be changed, he wrote, “I believe it is for the American people to do so.”

It isn’t just disabusing us of silly memes that makes me appreciate this trend; I also think that it provides us with both a stronger position and greater hope. For one thing, it silences the screams about “liberal activist judges” and gives our neighbors assurance that our victories aren’t being awarded because of partisan legislation from the bench. Bipartisanship goes a long way towards cultural acceptance of judicial decisions.

But an even more important reason is the message it send to the Supreme Court. As Republican judges address this issue, they do so from a particular perspective with particular viewpoints on what the Constitution means. And when they write opinions, they do so utilizing language that reflects these perspectives and viewpoints. And as it is believed that the Supreme Court justices which will need to be swayed in our favor are all Republicans, these opinions can speak to them in the terms which best plead our case.

Prop8ers appeal to the Supremes

Timothy Kincaid

July 31st, 2012

After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals repackaged the rejection of Proposition 8′s constitutionality so as to limit its impact to California, there was some possibility that the supporters of Proposition 8 would cut their losses and not appeal to the Supreme Court. However, yesterday they went the expected route and petitioned for a writ of certiorari (a request that the court hear the case).

The court will decide whether to hear the case, making that announcement probably in the first week of October. The possible results (in the order of my best guess) are:

  • the court hears the case and upholds the decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional based on the unique circumstances in California
  • the court refuses to hear the case and the decision stands, but only for California
  • the court hears the case and determines that the Ninth’s limitations do not hold and returns the case to the Ninth to decide if Prop 8 is unconstitutional on its merits rather than on the unique circumstances.
  • the court hears the case and invalidates all of the constitutional amendments which enshrined anti-gay discrimination. The court simultaneously establishes that anti-gay laws must meet a more strict level of scrutiny than most.
  • the court hears the case and reverses the Ninth Circuit’s decision and reinstates Proposition 8. This becomes known as one of the three or four most shameful decisions ever made by the Supreme Court.
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