Civil Rights Law & Policy Blog

Editor: Andrew M. Ironside

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Windsor as the end of federalist minimalism in LGBT litigation?

In this upcoming article, Professor Nancy C. Marcus argues that the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor--in which the Court struck down the interpretation of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act's (DOMA) use of "marriage" and "spouse" as applying only to heterosexual couples--landed a fatal blow to federalist minimalism with regard to marriage equality and LGBT- Gay_marriage_81102178_620x350-300x169rights litigation. According to Marcus, the Windsor Court rejected "federalist-based marriage discrimination" and instead contributed to the "growing foundation of equal liberty jurisprudence." Here's the abstract: 

Things are not always as they seem. The adage, “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck,” is far from a fail-proof test, as seen from its earlier days, when the “duck test” was reportedly used to persecute suspected Communists during the McCarthy Era. Today, I propose, the “duck test” is just as fallible when applied to the Supreme Court’s latest LGBT rights opinion, United States v. Windsor, which struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. Where duck = federalism, I suggest that, while Windsor was widely expected to be a federalist decision, and was interpreted as a federalist decision by some after its release, upon closer examination, Windsor is not a federalist duck at all, but is, rather, a swan song for federalist-based marriage discrimination. 

This article traces federalist-based advocacy for marriage equality to the late twentieth-century minimalist movement, viewed the judiciary pessimistically as an ineffective agent of social change, and urged that if civil rights litigators must turn to the courts for social justice in politically controversial areas, they stick to unambitious and narrow arguments. Even after the Supreme Court’s LGBT-rights decisions Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas, minimalists discouraged LGBT-rights litigation. Similarly, as DOMA challenges became inevitable, there was a push to frame constitutional challenges in terms of federalism, which was viewed as more strategically prudent than broader individual rights arguments. Even after Windsor was decided on broad substantive due process and equal protection grounds, rather than on Tenth Amendment federalism grounds, some persisted in reading it as a federalist opinion, influenced in that reading by the minimalist movement. 

The article explains both why backlash-fearing minimalists were wrong about the success of LGBT marriage equality, and why the reading of Windsor as a federalist decision is erroneous. The article describes how minimalist forecasts of doom for LGBT rights litigation have been proven wrong through successes in courts, legislative battles, and public opinion polls. The article details an evolution from backlash-fearing minimalism to a renewed faith in the courts serving an important role, along with legislative and educational measures, in the protection of fundamental and equal rights. Finally, examining Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Windsor in more detail, I explore different ways to interpret the strategic placement of its federalism discussion side-by-side with a Loving v. Virginia citation, for example. I offer that on the one hand, the opinion may be read cynically as rhetorical maneuvering, not unlike other historic examples of such strategic artifice used to co-opt the arguments of one’s opposition. On the other hand, however, I suggest that Windsor, as with past opinions, represents a principled, deliberate foundation building, which adds a layer of a growing foundation of equal liberty jurisprudence, established with doctrinal integrity to ensure greater protections for individual rights over time.

CRL&P related posts:

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/civil_rights/2013/12/windsor-as-the-end-of-federalist-minimalism-in-lgbt-litigation.html

14th Amendment, Same-sex marriage | Permalink

Comments

Someone explain "federalist minimalism". There is the Federalist Society, the Federalist Papers, The Federal Express, the list goes on.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Dec 8, 2013 10:43:01 AM

Post a comment