March 21, 2013
Daily Read: US v. Windsor, the DOMA Case, Amicus Brief Cato Institute and Constitutional Accountability Center
Fourth in a Series: Guest Post by Allison Reddy, City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, class of 2014
The brief of amici curiae of Cato Institute and Constitutional Accountability Center supports the position of Edith Windsor and argues for affirming the Second Circuit opinion. The Cato Institute is a think tank dedicated to public policy research furthering “the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.” The challenge to DOMA is consistent with CATO's philosophy of limited governmental interference in issues of personal freedom, especially on the part of the federal government. The Constitutional Accountability Center, also a think tank, is dedicated to "fulfilling the progressive promise of our Constitution’s text and history." While the two organizations might differ on controversial cases such as Citizens United, here the organizations agree that DOMA should be held unconstitutional.
Interestingly, the brief does not use the umbrella argument technique and instead jumps right into the arguments, first discussing the equal protection guarantee embodied in the Fifth Amendment. According to their argument, the Constitution protects individuals, not groups, from “lawless action by the government.” The amicus continues to quote Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion in JEB v. Alabama, which focused on the fact that individuality rises above association with a particular class. Therefore, any law designed to make individuals inferior under the law because of membership in a class is inherently odious. The argument progresses to discuss the plain meaning of the equal protection clause, which requires “equality under the law and equality of rights for all persons.” Citing the Civil Rights Cases, Yick Wo, and Justice Harlan’s dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, the brief makes a forceful case for the prohibition of class legislation. Framing DOMA as discrimination against gays and lesbians and denial of their right to “ordinary civic life in a free society” (Romer), the principles and case law undergirding equal protection require that DOMA be overturned.
The brief discusses the history of heightened scrutiny, both strict and intermediate. It supports the Second Circuit’s conclusion that intermediate scrutiny is appropriate. It argues, however, that the Court need not even reach a heightened scrutiny analysis, because DOMA fails even the most deferential rational basis review. However, without acknowledging the perhaps more “searching” scrutiny these cases apply, the brief uses Romer, Moreno, and Cleburne to support its conclusion. It does note that rational basis review, although deferential, “has never entailed judicial abdication in the face of arbitrary, invidious discrimination inconsistent with the equal protection guarantee,” citing Nat’l Fed’n of Independent Business v. Sebelius in support of this proposition. Accordingly, the Court should not abdicate its responsibility to protect gays and lesbians from DOMA’s discriminatory effects.
The brief further argues that because DOMA discriminates against gays in lesbians in almost every aspect of their lives, it violates the basic guarantee of equal protection under the law. DOMA was not a rational solution to a legitimate federal problem because it was obviously enacted in the spirit of animosity towards gays and lesbians, aiming to make them unequal to everyone else. Quoting the legislative history, the brief points out that “federal legislators sought to ‘express their disapprobation through the law,’ 142 Cong. Rec. 17,089 (1996), asserting that same-sex couples were ‘immoral, depraved,’ ‘unnatural,’ ‘based on perversion,’ and ‘an attack on God’s principles.’ Id. at 16,972, 17,074, 17, 082.” The brief goes on to eviscerate the rational bases proffered by BLAG in much the same manner as the Southern District, First Circuit, and Second Circuit.
This amicus brief reads much more forcefully than the Government’s brief. The way that this amicus brief essentially frames Romer, Cleburne, and Moreno as ordinary rational basis cases mirrors BLAG’s framing of those cases—except to support the opposite argument. At first blush, not acknowledging the more “searching” standard in these cases seemed glaring; however, this was obviously an intentional choice to construe these cases as minimally scrutinizing to support a finding that DOMA would fail even the most permissive review.
Moreover, by invoking the plain meaning of equal protection, this brief dispensed with the legal formalism. It argued that couching the arguments over DOMA in the language of federalism is a disingenuous approach to the issue and urges the Court reject BLAG's construction and confront DOMA in a forthright manner.
[posted and edited by RR]
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What does "more 'searching' scrutiny" mean? Is that a synonym or code for intermediate scrutiny? Or an (inexplicably) enhanced form of rational basis scrutiny? I have repeatedly encountered opaque and confusing descriptions of constitutional scrutiny in Supreme Court opinions, but it seems to me that scholarly analysts should resist using the same terms, at least not without providing some analysis and explanation. The concept of intermediate scrutiny in an equal protection/suspect class context also seems profoundly incorrect to me. It suggests, along with the terminology "quasi-suspect," that the challenger is entitled to some more-than-minimal constitutional rights, just not the full amount. The justification, as I read the USSC's opinions, is that sometimes unequal treatment based on the classification is warranted, as in gender--females are different than males in ways that are sometimes relevant to government decisionmaking, and so the courts scrutinize different treatment based on gender with a less-jaundiced eye than "suspect" classifications. (A fallacy, in my view.) Thus, the possibilities for LGBT persons is that a classification is not suspect at all (but cannot be based on "animus"), or that sometimes a classification based on gender orientation is relevant. Both are wrong, given that gender orientation is an immutable characteristic, like race. The standard of review for classifications based on gender orientation should be strict scrutiny.
Posted by: Jeffrey G. Purvis | Mar 25, 2013 10:43:19 AM