Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA, Dismisses Prop. 8 Appeal For Lack Of Standing

On the whole, a complete victory for advocates of same-sex marriage today at the Supreme Court.

gaymarriage

Within the hour, the Supreme Court has issued two rulings on the issue of same-sex marriage that, at least in their practical impact, will be quite historic.

First, in United States v. Windsor, the Court held that Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional:

(Reuters) – The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a central portion of a federal law that restricted the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples in a major victory for the gay rights movement.

The ruling, on a 5-4 vote, means that legally married gay men and women are entitled to claim the same federal benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples.

The court was due to decide within minutes a second case concerning a California law that bans same-sex marriage in the state.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote in close decisions, also said the law imposes “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.”

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia both wrote dissenting opinions.

In his dissent, Roberts wrote that the court in the coming Proposition 8 case will not reach the issue of constitutionality of state laws that limit the definition of marriage.

By striking down Section 3 of the law, the court clears the way to more than 1,100 federal benefits, rights and burdens linked to marriage status.

Second, in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court, as I expected they would, dismissed the appeal for lack of standing, meaning that the original ruling declaring the law unconstitutional stands and, effectively, same-sex marriage is now legal in California:

The U.S. Supreme Court today paved the way for same-sex couples to marry soon in California, effectively leaving intact a lower-court ruling that struck down the state’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

In a ruling that assures further legal battles, the high court found that backers of Proposition 8 did not have the legal right to defend the voter-approved gay marriage ban in place of the governor and attorney general, who have refused to press appeals of a federal judge’s 2010 ruling finding the law unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruling, which found it had no legal authority to decide the merits of a challenge to Proposition 8, sends the case back to that original decision — and the only question now is how quickly same-sex couples can marry and whether that ruling will have immediate statewide effect.

The 5-4 ruling was written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

(…)

In early 2010, former Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker held a three-week trial in which Proposition 8 backers defended the law without any help from California’s top officials. Walker later declared the law unconstitutional, in the process becoming the target of gay marriage foes when he publicly revealed he was in a long-term same-sex relationship, a fact that had been well-known in Bay Area legal circles.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Walker last year, albeit in a narrower ruling that found Proposition 8 unconstitutionally stripped away the previous right to marry in California without any justification. That led to the Supreme Court’s intervention in the case.

The Proposition 8 case has been clouded by a number of legal intricacies, notably whether the ballot measure’s sponsors even have a right to defend the California law in lieu of Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris, who consider it unconstitutional.

How quickly the holding of the District Court in Hollingsworth gets implemented in California depends on a number of factors, including how willing individual Court Clerk’s are to comply with the opinion itself. There may be some additional litigation necessary to nudge things along, but, in the end, I suspect that it won’t be very long before the nation’s most populous state, representing 11% of the nation’s population, is the newest state to fully recognize same-sex marriage.

I’ll have further updates later today on both opinions, but as an initial thought I’d say that this largely turned out as I thought it would (although I claim no prescience, I could’ve just as easily been wrong), and that it’s a great day for individual liberty. It is, I think, no small coincidence that today is the 10th anniversary of the Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the decision which struck down sodomy laws nationwide and, arguably, helped set in motion the events that have led to today. The legal battles are not over, of course, but after today the end result seems incredibly clear.

Update: Here’s the opinion in U.S. v. Windsor, the DOMA case:

United States v. Windsor by dmataconis

And here’s the opinion in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case:

Hollingsworth v. Perry by dmataconis

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. legion says:

    So, from the last couple of days, it’s clear that it’s OK to be gay in America, but it still sucks if you’re not white.

    Baby steps, I suppose.

  2. Sejanus says:

    Copy paste from another one of my comments:

    While overturning the gay marriage ban is a good thing, I think that this decision [the Prop 8 decision, not he DOMA one] is catastrophic, as now the executive authority can have any law it wants defended from judicial scrutiny simply be failing to defend it in the courts.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    @Sejanus:

    I think that this decision [the Prop 8 decision, not he DOMA one] is catastrophic, as now the executive authority can have any law it wants defended from judicial scrutiny simply be failing to defend it in the courts.

    It is interesting how President Obama chose not to defend DOMA, and California Governor Jerry Brown chose not to defend Proposition 8. Essentially, policy makers and leaders now look to the Courts, and not to the voters or the legislators, to resolve larger questions.

    How you feel about that depends on whether the Court has made you a winner or a loser.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Sejanus: @al-Ameda: I’m not comfortable with the precedent, either. It’s the sworn duty of the Chief Executive to enforce and defend the laws. I understand that Obama and Brown disagreed with the laws in question. So do I. But they have a job to do.

  5. anjin-san says:

    @ James Joyner

    It’s the sworn duty of the Chief Executive to enforce and defend the laws.

    When the President is sworn in, he takes an oath to defend the constitution. Where does he swear to defend each and every law?

  6. Mu says:

    Does this make the whole idea of a referendum obsolete? As most initiatives are brought by private parties against a state government, all the government has to do is allow a default judgement against it. No one will have the right to appeal, and the referendum issue goes away.

  7. Coldfan says:

    @anjin-san:

    When the President is sworn in, he takes an oath to defend the constitution. Where does he swear to defend each and every law?

    It’s in the constitution that the President must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

  8. Coldfan says:

    @anjin-san:

    Although it’s debatable whether faithfully executing a law requires the President to defend it’s constitutionality.

  9. Kari Q says:

    If I understand the ruling (which it is quite possible I do not, not being a lawyer) I think the argument is that private citizens have no standing to support or demand the implementation of a state law in federal court, that the proper place for the challenge is the state court. This would mean that a challenge could be filed in state court by someone claiming harm because a state failed to follow its own laws.

    I’ve never understood what sort of harm anyone would suffer if a gay couple gets married, you understand, but I think those would be the sort of arguments that would be used.

  10. george says:

    @anjin-san:

    When the President is sworn in, he takes an oath to defend the constitution. Where does he swear to defend each and every law?

    That’s my question too. In Canada they had a comedy panel show years ago (This is the Law) based on some of the obscure and now ridiculously out of date (and never enforced) laws still on the books. I suspect the same situation applies in the US.

    All in all, at least to a non-lawyer like me, sounds like the SCOTUS gave a good decision.

  11. Ben says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s the sworn duty of the Chief Executive to enforce and defend the laws.

    Negative, he swore to defend the Constitution and faithfully execute the laws. Did he fail to execute the law at any point? I don’t think he ordered the IRS to ignore the law and start allowing joint filings by gay married couples or anything like that. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that he is forced to defend the constitutionality of a law under “faithfully execute”.

  12. stonetools says:

    Glad for my gay brothers and sisters. Sorry that as an African American, my voting rights are less secure.
    Kind of feel the way this tweet says:

    When asked why he ruled for gay marriage but against voting rights, Justice Kennedy said “I thought it was obvious– some gays are white.”

    Oh well, SCOTUS giveth and SCOTUS taketh away.

    Scalia, Alito and Thomas are still scumbags, though. That’s the one constant of SCOTUS.

  13. RaflW says:

    @James Joyner: I believe the DOMA case did effectively affirm the right of the BLAG to be a party, so this isn’t as sweeping as some are saying re: government’s ability to defend laws.

    And I think Mu is right that the SCOTUS just said the Prop 8 proponents lacked standing to appeal to that court. That the proponents didn’t get the result they liked in the CA state court system doesn’t negate their standing to have sued and appealed there.

  14. RaflW says:

    @Ben: Well said. Note that the IRS did in fact refuse the refund to Windsor after the NY courts found DOMA unconstitutional. Had Obama ordered the refund pending SCOTUS appeal, you could better argue that he wasn’t upholding current law.

  15. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: @Coldfan: @Ben: It strikes me rather inherent in “he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed” that he stand up for the laws; no one else has standing to do so.

  16. James Joyner says:

    @stonetools: The comparison of the two cases strikes me as rather odd. Here, SCOTUS struck down Congress’ power discriminate against gays against the wishes of the states executing their traditional powers. There, SCOTUS struck down Congess’ power to discriminate against some states in their execution of their proper powers. The rulings are quite consistent.

    Congress still absolutely has the power under the 15th Amendment to pass an updated Voting Rights Act that addresses real, current discrimination on the account of race. What they were denied yesterday was the power to treat nine states differently than the other 41 on the basis of the status quo in 1965.

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Joyner:

    Congress still absolutely has the power under the 15th Amendment to pass an updated Voting Rights Act that addresses real, current discrimination on the account of race.

    True, but given the undeniable trend of late towards attempts at what can only be described as voter nullification by Republicans in a multitude of states, we’ll see the moon turn green before we’ll see a law passed by this Congress that puts the chains back on that effort.

  18. Sejanus says:

    @RaflW: “I believe the DOMA case did effectively affirm the right of the BLAG to be a party, so this isn’t as sweeping as some are saying re: government’s ability to defend laws.”

    But what would happen if both DOJ and BLAG simultaneously decided not to defend a certain federal law? Do the motions against it in the federal courts are simply thrown out because there’s no one to defend it?

  19. Caj says:

    Great day for the LGBT community. Now if we can only get another progressive on the SCOTUS and get the voting rights for all put back in place with no tricks or games that can be used by Republican’s to try and steal an election!

  20. stonetools says:

    @James Joyner:

    ongress still absolutely has the power under the 15th Amendment to pass an updated Voting Rights Act that addresseas the power to treat nine states differently than the other 41 on the basis of the status quo s real, current discrimination on the account of race. What they were denied yesterday win 1965.

    Except that Congress reauthorized Sections 4 and 5 ( the pre-clearance provisions) in 2006, based on studies of the discovered states’ behavior from 1982-2006. So it didn’t base its re-authorization on 1965 data.
    Just wanted to clear that up for those that might have swallowed the erroneous take being pushed by all right wing sites out there.