Tuesday, June 25, 2013
opinion by Justice Alito, a majority of the Court construed the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA, as not violated by the adoption of "Baby Veronica" by a white couple although her father is Native American. The majority stated that it assumed that the biological father qualified as a "parent" under ICWA, but that the involuntary termination of his rights, if any, met ICWA. The majority opinion is relatively brief (19 pages), but there are multiple opinions: a concurring opinion by Thomas, a concurring opinion by Breyer, a dissenting opinion by Scalia, and a lengthy dissenting opinion by Sotomayor, joined by Ginsburg and Kagan, and partially by Scalia.
From the perspective of constitutional law, the case is noteworthy for its application of the doctrine of constitutional avoidance and equal protection. At the end of the majority opinion, Justice Alito refers to the problem, noting that ICWA "was enacted to help preserve the cultural identity and heritage of Indian tribes, but" under the interpretation of the South Carolina Supreme Court that is being reversed, ICWA "would put certain vulnerable children at a great disadvantage solely because an ancestor—even a remote one— was an Indian." Thus,
a biological Indian father could abandon his child in utero and refuse any support for the birth mother—perhaps contributing to the mother’s decision to put the child up for adoption—and then could play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother’s decision and the child’s best interests. If this were possible, many prospective adoptive parents would surely pause before adopting any child who might possibly qualify as an Indian under the ICWA. Such an interpretation would raise equal protection concerns . . . .
The majority was thus seemingly convinced by the argument on behalf of the adoptive parents that such an interpretation of ICWA would be "basically relegating the child, the child to a piece of property with a sign that says, "Indian, keep off. Do not disturb." "
Sotomayor's opinion for the four dissenting Justices makes clear that the "majority does not rely on the theory pressed by petitioners and the guardian ad litem that the canon of constitutional avoidance compels the conclusion that ICWA is inapplicable here," but observes that the "majority nevertheless offers the suggestion that a contrary result would create an equal protection problem." Sotomayor's opinion also seeks to call the majority to account for the tenor of the opinion:
The majority’s repeated, analytically unnecessary references to the fact that Baby Girl is 3/256 Cherokee by ancestry do nothing to elucidate its intima tion that the statute may violate the Equal Protection Clause as applied here. See ante, at 1, 6; see also ante, at 16 (stating that ICWA “would put certain vulnerablechildren at a great disadvantage solely because an ancestor—even a remote one—was an Indian” (emphasis added)). I see no ground for this Court to second-guess the membership requirements of federally recognized Indian tribes, which are independent political entities.
She later states,
The majority’s treatment of this issue, in the end, does no more than create a lingering mood of disapprobation of the criteria for membership adopted by the Cherokee Nation that, in turn, make Baby Girl an “Indian child” under the statute. Its hints at lurking constitutional problems are, by its own account, irrelevant to its statutory analysis, and accordingly need not detain us any longer.
It is Justice Thomas' concurring opinion, however, that most expansively engages with the doctrine of "constitutional avoidance," but his concern is not equal protection. Instead, Thomas' 12 page opinion is devoted to the question of Congressional power: "The threshold question, then, is whether the Constitution grants Congress power to override state custody law whenever an Indian is involved." For Thomas, ICWA's grounding in the Indian Commerce Clause, Art. I, §8, cl. 3, and “other constitutional authority” that give Congress with “plenary power over Indian affairs,” is constitutionally suspect.
Thomas balances the lack of Congressional authority with federalism concerns, and part of his rationale rests upon family law as being within the province of the states. It will be interesting to see how this concern is articulated in tomorrow's anticipated decision in United States v. Windsor involving the constitutionality of the federal "Defense of Marriage Act."
[image: Badolier bag of the Ojibwa via]
Friday, May 31, 2013
While for many Conlawprofs Loving v. Virginia is the "face" of love and marriage across racial divides, looking both backward and forward from the 1967 case can add depth to teaching and scholarship about the issue. (And if it seems not to be an issue any longer, a quick look at the "controversy" caused by a cereal advertisement featuring an interracial couple and their child is worth considering).
Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig's new book, According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family, just published by Yale University Press, provides that depth.
Her exploration focuses on Rhinelander v. Rhinelander, a case that did not involve a constitutional issue, except to the extent that racial categorizations always implicate issues of constitutionalism and equality. As Onwuachi-Willig describes in a piece in the UC Davis Law Review,
Alice Beatrice Jones was a working-class woman, who met Leonard Kip Rhinelander, a wealthy white male descendant of the Huguenots and heir to millions of dollars, in the fall of 1921. . . . [They married in a private ceremony and] Just two weeks later, on November 26, 1924, Leonard filed for annulment of his marriage to Alice. He argued that Alice had lied to him about her race. Leonard claimed that Alice had committed fraud that made their marriage void by telling him that she was white and by failing to inform him that she was of “colored blood.”
Rather than litigate her whiteness as many expected, she argued that he knew her racial status.
The trial of the Rhinelanders proved to be shocking on many fronts. It involved racy love letters, tales of pre-marital lust and sex, and the exhibition of Alice’s breasts, legs, and arms in the courtroom to prove that Leonard, who had seen her naked before marriage, would have known that she was colored at the time of their nuptials. What was most scandalous about the Rhinelander case, however, was the trial’s end. The jury returned a verdict for Alice, determining that Leonard knew her racial background before marriage yet married her anyway.
Onwuachi-Willig's book also provides contemporary arguments that current law fails to protect interracial couples, especially given the privileges that continue to be accorded on the basis of marriage.
As we wait for both Fisher v. UT and the same-sex marriage cases of Perry and Windsor, or as we contemplate their meanings once the opinions are rendered, Onwuachi-Willig's book is an important and pleasurable read.
Friday, April 26, 2013
In an interesting advisory opinion from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the ability of same-sex couples married under state law to make political contributions similar to opposite-sex married couples is thwarted by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Recall that the United States Supreme Court is currently considering the constitutionality of DOMA in United States v. Windsor, argued last month.
The advisory opinion explained the underlying regulatory scheme:
Notwithstanding the prohibition on contributions in the name of another, a Commission regulation governing “[c]ontributions by spouses” provides that “limitations on contributions . . . shall apply separately to contributions made by each spouse even if only one spouse has income.” 11 C.F.R. 110.1(i). Thus, under Section 110.1(i), a spouse with no separate income may make a contribution in his or her own name “through the checking account of the other spouse.”
It concluded that "so long as the relevant provisions of DOMA remain in effect, the Committee may not apply 11 C.F.R. 110.1(i) to contributions from same-sex couples married under state law," although the Commission recognized that DOMA was currently under review.
In a separately issued concurring statement, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub (pictured) emphasized that her "vote today was in no way intended to endorse the discriminatory, irrational burden that DOMA places on political participation by individuals in same sex."
If DOMA is not declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court on the basis of equal protection, the FEC's opinion might be fertile ground on which to grow a First Amendment challenge.
[image of Ellen Weintraub via]
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Today's oral arguments in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, which we previewed yesterday, were indeed a mix of statutory interpretation and application of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and constitutional issues, with a dose of family law.
Arguing for the adoptive couple, Lisa Blatt described the biological father as equivalent to "a sperm donor," causing Justice Scalia to counter with an assertion of fatherhood ("He's the father. He's the father.") to which Blatt replied, "And so is a sperm donor under your definition. He's a biological father and nothing else in the eyes of State law." By this description, Blatt not only argued that the biological father was not a parent under ICWA, but also tended to erode any constitutional rights that the father might have. Blatt also took on the constitutional argument more directly, arguing that ICWA would "raise grave constitutional concerns" if "Congress presumptively presumed that a non-Indian parent was unfit to raise any child with any amount of Indian blood."
The "amount of Indian blood" was an issue that attracted the attention of Chief Justice Roberts, who has been attentive racial identities in the affirmative action cases, including Fisher argued earlier this Term. During Charles Rothfeld's argument on behalf of the biological father, Roberts posed a "hypothetical" about an Indian tribe that had a "zero percent blood requirement" and enrolled members who "think culturally they're a Cherokee." Justice Ginsburg objected that this was not the ICWA definition and Justice Scalia agreed that Roberts' hypothetical would be a "null set," but Roberts posed the query again. Rothfeld replied that such "wild hypotheticals" would "present political questions to be addressed by Congress or addressed by the executive branch."
Arguing between Blatt and Rothfeld, Paul Clement, on behalf of the child's law guardian - - - asserting the child's best interests as assumed by the guardian - - - also contended that ICWA was constitutionally suspect. The "Indian child" is a racial classification:
And as a result of that her whole world changes and this whole inquiry changes. It goes from an inquiry focused on her best interests and it changes to a focus on the birth father and whether or not beyond a reasonable doubt there is a clear and present danger.
Clement's characterization of ICWA's standard was somewhat hyperbolic, although the statute does require the high standard and does have a "substantial and immediate danger or threat of such danger" exemption. This resonated with Blatt's rebuttal, expressing the dangers of a Court affirmance of the South Carolina Supreme Court's opinion in favor of the biological father:
And you're basically relegating the child, the child to a piece of property with a sign that says, "Indian, keep off. Do not disturb." This case is going to affect any interracial adoption of children.It is highly unlikely that the Court will address the lurking equal protection racial classification issue, however its importance was revealed in Paul Clement's colloquy with Justice Kennedy about "constitutional avoidance." Justice Breyer essentially asked Clement how to remedy the situation and Clement responded that because ICWA provides "extraordinary" protections that "it only makes sense to prove something more than bare paternity."
It is more likely that the Court's usual conservative/liberal dichotomy will not be apparent in the ultimate opinions.
Monday, April 15, 2013
The oral arguments in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, on certiorari to the South Carolina Supreme Court will be held on April 16. The case, also known as “Baby Veronica,” is an emotional struggle over custody of a small child.On one view, the Court’s task is a relatively simple one of statutory interpretation, including the definition of “parent” in the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA. The petitioners, the adoptive couple, articulate the questions presented as:
(1) Whether a non-custodial parent can invoke the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901-63, to block an adoption voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent under state law.
(2) Whether ICWA defines “parent” in 25 U.S.C. § 1903(9) to include an unwed biological father who has not complied with state law rules to attain legal status as a parent.
The questions presented by the respondent birth father, a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, and by the respondent Cherokee Nation, and by the United States as amicus curiae supporting the respondent, all likewise focus on ICWA, albeit with a different persuasive cadence. These articulations stress the positive acts of the biological father. For example, as the biological father phrases the parenting definition question:
Whether an Indian child’s biological father who has expressly acknowledged that he is the child’s father and has established that he is the father through DNA testing is the child’s “parent” within the meaning [of ICWA].
The Brief of the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent father and tribe has a similar issue statement, asking whether the state courts properly applied ICWA
to award custody of an Indian child to her biological father over an adoptive couple, where the father acknowledged and established his paternity and no remedial measures had been taken to avoid termination of his parental rights.
However, the case is not merely one of statutory interpretation, but raises important, if not always obvious, constitutional issues.
First, Congressional intervention in child welfare must rely on a particularly enumerated power of Congress, the usual one being the Spending Clause. For Native Americans, however, Congressional power is often labeled “plenary,” although it is grounded most specifically in the Indian Commerce Clause, Art. I §3 cl. 8. ICWA was intended to prevent the removal of Native children from their parents - - - as well as their tribes - - - a history that many of the amicus briefs discuss in depth.
Second, and relatedly, this Congressional power over Native children raises federalism issues, especially given that child custody and adoption are generally within the state’s police powers. In the case of Baby Veronica, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the trial judge’s application of ICWA to deny the adoption and award custody to the Native father. Yet the very existence of ICWA arguably intrudes upon state police powers.
Third, and most stealthily, the case may present issues of due process and equal protection. In the brief on behalf of Baby Veronica through her Guardian ad Litem authored by Paul Clement, the arguably “erroneous interpretation” of ICWA “raises serious constitutional issues.” In this argument, the best interests of the child standard - - - the usual touchstone in child adoption and custody - - - aspires to a constitutional right of the child. Moreover, the state court’s decision violated the baby’s equal protection and due process rights.
For example, the brief analogizes to the equal protection case of Palmore v. Sidoti:
In Palmore, this Court struck down the use of racial classifications to remove a child from an appropriate custody placement. This case is no different. Baby Girl’s Indian blood quantum was the sole reason the lower court ordered her removed from the loving, stable home she had lived in since birth and placed with a biological father whose failure to timely care for her extinguished any parental rights he might otherwise have had under state law or the Constitution.
Less successfully, the brief attempts to articulate a liberty interest of the child:
And “to the extent parents and families have fundamental liberty interests in preserving such intimate relationships, so, too, do children have these interests, and so, too, must their interests be balanced in the equation.” Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 88 (2000) (Stevens, J., dissenting).
Yet ultimately, the brief argues that there is an (unconstitutional) racial classification if ICWA is applied too broadly. Clement argues that ICWA should be interpreted to limit "its application to adoption and custody proceedings involving children who are either domiciled on a reservation or have some other tribal connection beyond biology."
These limitations are crucial to preserving the Act’s constitutionality, ensuring that the Act’s differential treatment of Indians operates only to promote tribal sovereignty and the unique interests of Indians as tribal citizens, and not as invidious racial discrimination that arbitrarily trumps Baby Girl’s liberty interests. [ICWA's] definition of parent, properly interpreted, avoids these difficulties by declining to give an unwed Indian father rights based on biology alone that no non-Indian unwed father enjoys.
Moreover, ICWA's constitutional interpretation rests upon limiting its "application to children in the pre-existing custody of an Indian parent or other circumstances in which there is a distinct connection to tribal interests."
Clement - - who so recently represented BLAG supporting the constitutionality of DOMA in United States v. Windsor - - - here has quite a different view of equality and federal power.
While it is unlikely that these constitutional arguments assume center stage, they may infuse the statutory interpretation of ICWA so squarely before the Court.
[image circa 1890 via]
April 15, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, History, Interpretation, Race, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, March 29, 2013
a law prof, hits precisely the right tones for those already acquainted with the material. Here's a bit from Milan's "truncated transcript":
SOTOMAYOR: So let me ask a real question. If marriage is a fundamental right, is the state ever allowed to limit it?
KENNEDY: Enough about gays and lesbians. Can we talk about me for a minute? Because I feel a little uncomfortable with this discussion. In fact, I’m kind of feeling like taking my swing-voting ball and going home. Who wants to dig the case?
[note: dig=acronym for Dismissed as Improvidently Granted]
OLSON: Uh. Kinda staggered here. You want to dig the case? We…we spent weeks preparing for this, the entire country is watching, millions of people could have their lives changed, and you want to dig the case?
KENNEDY: I’m just saying. Oh, Olson, you’re all out of time. Nice ending note, though.
Worth a read in its entirety.
[h/t Darren Rosenblum]
Thursday, March 28, 2013
In the oral argument for United States v. Windsor challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Chief Justice Roberts expressed skepticism that gays and lesbians were politically powerless, announcing to Roberta Kaplan, representing Edith Windsor, "As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case."
ConLawProf Darren Hutchinson (pictured) provides an indepth examination, context, and prescient critique of Roberts' remark in his new article, Not Without Political Power': Gays and Lesbians, Equal Protection, and the Suspect Class Doctrine, available in draft on ssrn. Hutchinson argues that the political powerlessness factor used to evaluate claims for heightened scrutiny under equal protection doctrine is "especially undertheorized and contradictory."
Hutchinson's article is a tour de force of precedent deploying rhetoric of political powerlessness. Of course, Hutchinson highlights Justice Scalia's well-known dissent in Romer v. Evans, the Colorado Amendment 2 case, noting that not only is it based on stereotypes but it "sounds exactly like a political document against gay and lesbian rights." But Hutchinson does suggest that there is indeed a role for politics, however at a much more sophisticated level. Rather than jettison any inquiry into political powerlessness as some scholars have argued, Hutchinson contends that a much more robust understanding of politics is necessary.
Ultimately, Hutchinson concludes that the present scholarly and judicial discourse
fails adequately to discuss the multiple factors that cause political vulnerability among gays and lesbians. While some gays and lesbians possess power, most of them do not. Poverty, gender, race, geography, and disability influence the ability of gays and lesbians to exercise political power.
Instead, he suggests that political science scholarship inform legal scholarship and judicial opinions, and that antisubordination legal scholarship inform wider discussions of equal protection. Certainly, Hutchinson's article should inform anyone considering political powerlessness in the context of same-sex marriage and equal protection.
March 28, 2013 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
This is from the essay Toward a more perfect analysis, published in the SCOTUSBlog same-sex marriage sympoisum in September 2012:
The suggestions of clearly articulated standards and rigorous analysis are not simply the fantasies of a law professor. While Supreme Court opinions need not be constitutional law examination answers, neither should they be confusing, or marred by sarcasm or sentimentality. Students studying law should be exposed to more Supreme Court opinions demonstrating trenchant analysis rather than rhetorical politics.
Clearly articulated standards might also allow the lower federal courts as well as the state courts to engage in their own rigorous analysis rather than attempt to discern the correct standard from Supreme Court precedents that are unclear, internally inconsistent, or point in several directions. This is not to say that the same-sex marriage issue should have been easily resolved by lower courts or that the applications of the standard are not difficult and value-laden. However, the grappling of the lower courts for several years now regarding the actual holding of Romer v. Evans, as well as Loving v. Virginia, could have been avoided.
Regarding the suggested holdings in the Proposition 8 and DOMA cases, the Supreme Court’s clear conclusion that sexuality merits intermediate scrutiny review, like gender, would disentangle the equal protection doctrine from the animus inquiry. While certainly animus can be operative, the inquisition into intent invites protestations of moral belief or religious conviction. The false opposition between equality and morals needs to be abandoned. Additionally, the linking of sexual orientation and gender as quasi-suspect should lead courts to find classifications based upon gender identity, transgender identity, or gender nonconformity as similarly subject to intermediate scrutiny review. Additionally, the Supreme Court’s definitive holding that marriage is a fundamental right meriting strict scrutiny review would extricate the issues from the federalism quagmire.
March 27, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
The first of the two closely-watched same sex marriage cases to be argued before the United States this morning prompted much tweeting and predictions, as well as the promised early release of the audio by the Supreme Court itself.
As the oral arguments today made clear, at issue before the Court today in Hollingsworth v. Perry is the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, held unconstitutional by a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit in Perry v. Brown.
The Standing Issue:
The first question during oral argument was from Chief Justice Roberts and directed the attention of Hollingsworth's counsel, Charles Cooper, to the "jurisdictional" issue - - - the question of whether Hollingsworth has standing. Recall that the original challenge to Proposition 8 named Governor Schwarzenegger, and later substituted Governor Brown, as defendants, but both governors and the State of California refused to defend the constitutionality of the voter initiative. Recall also that the California Supreme Court had answered a certified query about the interests of proponents of a Proposition under California law, but today's the questions from the bench stressed Article III of the United States Constitution.
Roberts' query was repeated to Theodore Olsen, arguing for the challengers to Proposition 8, and to Solicitor General Verrilli, who noted that the United States, as amicus, did not have a "formal position" on standing, but essentially echoed Justice Ginsburg's first question to Cooper, regarding whether the proponents of Proposition 8 had any "propriety interest" in the law distinct from other California citizens once the law had been passed.
On the Merits:
A central query on the merits is the level of scrutiny under equal protection doctrine that should be applied. Justice Kennedy asked Cooper whether it could be treated as a gender classification and stated "It's a difficult question that I've been trying to wrestle with it." Yet Cooper's argument in many ways deflects the level of scrutiny inquiry and Justice Kagan expressed it thusly:
Mr. Cooper, could I just understand your argument. In reading the briefs, it seems as though your principal argument is that same-sex and opposite -- opposite-sex couples are not similarly situated because opposite-sex couples can procreate, same-sex couples cannot, and the State's principal interest in marriage is in regulating procreation. Is that basically correct?
Mr. Cooper agreed, and continued his argument, although Justice Scalia later tried to assist him:
JUSTICE SCALIA: Mr. Cooper, let me -- let me give you one -- one concrete thing. I don't know why you don't mention some concrete things. If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must -- you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there's - there's considerable disagreement among -- among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a -- in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not. Some States do not -- do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: California -- no, California does.
JUSTICE SCALIA: I don't think we know the answer to that. Do you know the answer to that, whether it -- whether it harms or helps the child?
But given that Justice Kennedy is widely viewed as the "swing vote," his comments deserve special attention. During Cooper's argument, Kennedy focused on the children of same-sex couples in California:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: I -- I think there's - there's substantial -- that there's substance to the point that sociological information is new. We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more. On the other hand, there is an immediate legal injury or legal -- what could be a legal injury, and that's the voice of these children. There are some 40,000 children in California, according to the Red Brief, that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don't you think?
But at other times, Kennedy expressed other concerns. During Theordore Olsen's argument, Kennedy stated
JUSTICE KENNEDY: The problem -- the problem with the case is that you're really asking, particularly because of the sociological evidence you cite, for us to go into uncharted waters, and you can play with that metaphor, there's a wonderful destination, it is a cliff. Whatever that was.
And soon thereafter, in perhaps what could be a possible avoidance of all the issues,
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But you're -- you're doing so in a -- in a case where the opinion is very narrow. Basically that once the State goes halfway, it has to go all the way or 70 percent of the way, and you're doing so in a case where there's a substantial question on - on standing. I just wonder if -- if the case was properly granted.
MR. OLSON: Oh, the case was certainly properly granted, Your Honor. I mean, there was a full trial of all of these issues. There was a 12-day trial, the judge insisted on evidence on all of these questions. This -- this is a -
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But that's not the issue the Ninth Circuit decided.
Could the Supreme Court merely declare that its grant of certiorari was "improvidently granted." It certainly wouldn't be the first time (or second) in very recent history. But in such a high profile case, it might further erode respect for the Court.
March 26, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, March 25, 2013
The critique of marriage as a legal institution may seem a bit churlish as the same-sex marriage cases go to the United States Supreme Court this week. It may seem as if there is universal agreement that marriage is "good" and the only question is whether governments can exclude same-sex couples from this "good."
Yet there is certainly a different way to conceptualize the issue. In Not the Marrying Kind, U.K. Law Professor Nicola Barker engages the issues from several perspectives. Importantly, her discussions do not portray the lesbian or larger LGBT communities as monolithically desiring marriage, but rather as critically engaged in questions of formal equality. She is scrupulous about presenting the complexities of opinions, theories, and strategies across several continents. Barker's book is a treat even readers who have been following these developments for years or are suffering from same-sex marriage fatigue.
I review Barker's book, as well as several other books on same-sex and opposite-sex marriage in an essay "Is Marriage Good for Women?" in this month's Women's Review of Books.
Barker's book is the best of the lot and essential reading for anyone seriously engaged in thinking about same-sex marriage.
Thursday, 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]
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Third in a Series: Guest Post by Versely Rosales, City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, class of 2014
The brief submitted by National Association of Evangelicals; The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; The Romanian-American Evangelical Alliance of North America; and Truth in Action Ministries supports the position of BLAG arguing for the constitutionality of DOMA.
The brief argues that rational basis review is the proper standard for evaluating legislation, like DOMA, that implicates questions of values, culture, and policy. The brief also argues that “moral and religious views voiced in support of DOMA do not detract from its validity.”
The rational basis argument:
This amicus brief first argues that rational basis governs because what is at issue in DOMA “is not a discrimination against a discrete and insular minority.” Instead, the issue is a “profound culture debate over the nature and meaning of marriage.” Further, because “homosexuals” have political power, they do not need extraordinary judicial protection from majoritarian interests. Thus, they can rely on the democratic political processes to engage in a debate over values, morals, judgments, and culture. Therefore, rational basis review is the only standard that allows for spirited democratic debate over the different visions of marriage that should prevail in the federal government. By applying anything other than rational basis, the Court would deprive the public of this debate. In particular, it would deny faith communities, who have a “long experience in these matters” and “unique perspectives,” to be heard by democratic decision makers.
Thus, the brief contends that the Second Circuit’s conclusion that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional stands on a “rickety foundation.” The Second Circuit is faulted for “creat[ing] the first new protected class in 35 years,” and being contrary to every federal court of appeals that has addressed the question. Further, this amicus brief notes several other reasons why heightened scrutiny is “plainly improper in this case.” First, heightened-scrutiny jurisprudence contains a strong presumption against creating new suspect classes as courts should be very reluctant to closely scrutinize legislative choices. Secondly, the Constitution presumes that unjust discrimination will be remedied through the ordinary democratic process. Thirdly, the Supreme Court’s refusal to recognize any new suspect classes confirms the necessity of a very cautious approach into sensitive areas.
The amicus brief of these religious organizations criticizes the Second Circuit opinion for failing to recognize that rational basis review is the proper standard of review for preserving the primacy of the democratic process in cases turning on fundamental issues of public policy, culture, and morality. DOMA is argued to be within this category because it has become monumental cultural conflict between two major visions of marriage: traditional marriage which is centered on procreating and raising children; and the more recent, genderless, adult-orientated notion where procreation and childrearing are not central to marriage’s meaning. The traditional marriage concept has deep roots and provides a mechanism for coping with the reality that sex between men and women generally results in pregnancy and childbirth. And, whether proven or not, it is reasonable to accept that children born from opposite-sex married relationships will benefit by being raised by two parents within long-term relationships. In addition, lawmakers cannot and should not rely on social science scholars on the effects of sexual minorities parenting children because, in part, such opinions are inherently tentative and often laden with value-based assumptions. Thus, lawmakers should be allowed to use their judgments and own experience, which have led them to believe that traditional marriage and family structure deserve distinctive legal protections.
The amicus brief also points out while the Court has never adopted “the genderless, adult-centered definition of marriage,” it has “long endorsed the strong legislative preference for man-woman marriage as the foundation of our society.” Given this historical preference, the Court should construe DOMA as a rational preference for the tried and familiar over the untried and novel.
The moral and religious views argument:
The second main argument of this amicus brief contends “moral and religious views voiced in support of DOMA do not detract from its validity.” Congress identified “defending traditional notions of morality” as one of the four “governmental interests” for the enactment of DOMA. The brief argues that Congress recognized that the issue of marriage has moral or religious aspects for many Americans and that cannot be divorced from the practicalities. Lawmakers have the right to protect this valued moral norm, and when they do so, it should not be labeled as invalid just because it happens to coincide with the tenets of some - - -or all - - - religions. To declare DOMA void merely because it adheres to traditional moral and religious belief would fly in the face of this Court’s ruling that the Constitution does not allow the government to treat religion and those who practice or teach it as being subversive to American ideals and therefore subject them to unique disabilities. “By scrutinizing a law reflecting, in part, religious values more severely than others, courts would effectively target such beliefs or religious support for unusual burdens or penalties.”
Interestingly, the brief ultimately argues that to subject DOMA to heightened scrutiny simply because of its “affiliation with traditional morality would raise First Amendment concerns.”
Contribution of the Brief:
This amicus brief supports the position of BLAG that DOMA is unconstitutional. But although BLAG agrees that traditional marriage coincides with religious sections of the citizenry, it does not emphasize the moral aspect of DOMA in its brief.
The Government brief does not agree with the assertion that what is at issue is a cultural debate. The Government clearly argues in its brief that DOMA is based on discrimination and it affects the distribution of benefits to a sub-section of society. The Government also disagrees with the Amicus brief’s most basic contention: Homosexuals are not a discrete and insular minority deserving of heightened scrutiny.
The argument that the First Amendment is relevant is unique; it is not shared by BLAG or the Government.
[posted and edited by RR]
March 20, 2013 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Daily Read: US v. Windsor, the DOMA Case, Amicus Brief of Scholars of the Constitutional Rights of Children in Support of Windsor
Second in a Series: Guest Post by Anetta Sookhdeo, City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, class of 2014
The brief of the Scholars of the Constitutional Rights of Children (including Professor Tanya Washington, pictured) in support of Respondent, Edith Windsor, responds to several of BLAG’s assertions that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) advances the welfare of children by (1) providing a stable structure to raise unintended and unplanned offspring; (2) encouraging the rearing of children by their biological parents and (3) promoting childrearing by both a mother and a father. These goals are discredited by the Amici because they merely reflect a preference for children to be raised by opposite-sex parents.
The Amici assert that DOMA creates a classification based on children living in households headed by same-sex parents and those living in households headed by opposite-sex parents. Subsequently, children are harmed by treating these two classes differently, even though they are identically situated. To bolster this point, the Amici cite an October 2011 study that estimates about two million children make up the class of children being raised by LGBT parents. Of those, according to the United States Census, between three hundred thousand and one million children are being raised by same-sex couples. Moreover, these numbers are likely to increase as more states begin to legally recognize same-sex marriages.
Additionally, DOMA deprives children of important federal resources and protections by making households headed by same-sex parents ineligible to receive them. The Amici assert that these benefits and resources, which include the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, Social Security payments to spouses and filing joint tax returns, are important safety features to protect children within family units. For example, the goal of the FMLA to promote stability and economic security of families is not extended to households where children are raised by same-sex parents. Whereas eligible opposite-sex married couples are eligible to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick child, spouse or parent, same-sex married couples are ineligible for this benefit. The Amici argue that children within these families being deprived of federal resources have the same need and interest in family security and stability and suffer an injury that is cumulative over the course of their lifetimes.
Furthermore, children suffer psychological harm as a result of DOMA symbolically expressing inferiority of families headed by same-sex parents. According to the Amici, the purpose and effect of DOMA is to stigmatize families with same-sex parents and, by extension, the children of those families. DOMA accomplishes this result by communicating to those children in households headed by same-sex couples that their family unit is “morally objectionable and functionally deficient.” The Amici argue that the Court has already spoken through Brown v. Board of Education and Plyler v. Doe those statutes which place a stigma on children and confer adverse psychological effects are unconstitutional.
The Amici’s second argument is that DOMA should be invalidated because it does not survive any level of scrutiny for punishing children based on moral disapproval for the conduct of their parents. The Court’s goal and history of protecting the right of children to “self-determination and to flourish fully in a society without being hampered by legal, economic and social barriers” is seen by the decisions in Levy v. Louisiana and Weber v. Atena Casualty & Surety Co. In these cases, the court decided that invidious classifications based on illegitimacy were impermissible. The Amici acknowledge that while the state may have a valid interest in promoting marriage and childbirth within marriages, the state is not permitted to exclude a group of children who have identical interests in the benefits at issue, simply because the group of children is disfavored.
In addition, the Amici argue that the outcome of Plyler indicates the Court’s view that a foundational mission of the Equal Protection Clause is “to work [for] nothing less than the abolition of all caste-based and invidious class-based legislation.” Plyler indicated that while states could disapprove of the presence of undocumented immigrants in the United States, they could not justify the imposition of disabilities on the minor children of undocumented immigrants. The Amici argue that, under the mission of the Court and past rulings, laws that discriminately determine legal, economic and social status of children are prohibited.
Lastly, the Amici argue that states may not enforce moral disapproval against children based on the relationship between their parents. The decision in Palmore v. Sidoti held that “Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect.” Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429 (1984). Nor may the Court rely on such private biases which draw “impermissible, overbroad generalizations about different talents, capacities or preferences of males or females”. Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380 (1979). The Amici urge the Court to find that DOMA gives effect to private bias against same-sex couples, particularly in regards to private biases about gender-role stereotypes in parenting, and should be found unconstitutional.
This brief bolsters the Government’s position by highlighting an argument that largely went unnoticed but is also at the heart of the issue being decided. The brief adds cases that were not before mentioned in the Government’s brief and provides additional avenues to argue that DOMA should be held unconstitutional. For example, the Government’s brief does not discuss Brown v. Board of Education, but here Brown is used as a primary case to advocate for invalidating a statute that adds a stigma against children of households headed by same-sex couples.
[posted and edited by RR]
Monday, March 18, 2013
Brief on the merits of the Amici Curiae United States Senators Orrin G. Hatch (pictured), Saxby Chambliss, Dan Coats, Thad Cochran, Mike Crapo, Charles Grassley, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Richard Shelby, and Roger Wicker in support of respondent the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Amici were all sitting United States Senators who served in the 104th Congress House or Senate and voted for passage of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”). Their interest in writing this brief was to inform the Court of the important interests that DOMA was enacted to serve. Therefore, this brief does not explore the equal protection levels of scrutiny and their applicability to DOMA or discuss every interest in enacting DOMA, as the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (“BLAG”) did in their brief. Rather, the The Amici’s argument focuses on and expounds specifically federal interests that were considered and explained throughout DOMA’s legislative history, but which the Amici feel were ignored, misunderstood, or summarily dismissed in the courts below.
First, the Amici contend alongside BLAG that pre-DOMA law did not recognize same-sex marriage, and that DOMA merely reaffirmed the existing federal definition. Like BLAG, the brief cites to other federal statutes and benefits describing spouses as husband and wife, and explains that at the time federal benefit statutes were enacted, no state recognized same-sex marriages. Both briefs state that DOMA was a response to the Hawaii case, Baehr v. Lewin, but the Amici go as far to describe Congress’s view that Baehr was “part of an orchestrated legal assault being waged against traditional heterosexual marriage.” [Brief, pg. 2]
Second, the Amici echoed BLAG’s asserted interest of uniformity and certainty in the application of federal law. In addition to BLAG’s claim that a federal definition of marriage is necessary to ensure that couples in different states do not have different eligibility to receive Federal benefits, the Amici also explain that DOMA was enacted to avoid state by state and statute by statute litigation over whether a couple who had married in a state that recognized same-sex marriage would be “married” if they moved to another state. The outcome of this type of litigation would largely depend on whether a state had a strong public policy against same-sex marriage, which would vary state to state. DOMA was enacted to prevent this litigation, which would have varying and inconsistent results. The Amici further contend that there is nothing suspicious or novel about Congress preferring this uniformity over deference to state law – especially when Congress is confronted by an effort to change the definition of marriage contrary to history and tradition.
Third, similarly to BLAG, the Amici reject the argument that DOMA interferes with the autonomy of states to define marriage and claim that Section 3 of DOMA protects the ability of states to preserve traditional marriage. Like BLAG, the Amici reference Section 2 of DOMA as preserving and protecting the autonomy of each individual state. In addition, the Amici claim that Section 3 of DOMA preserves the traditional definition of marriage by removing the incentive that might otherwise encourage efforts to change state law to recognize same-sex marriage. The Amici state that if recognizing same-sex marriage would allow same-sex couples to obtain federal benefits, those seeking recognition by the courts would have a powerful weapon, especially in the cases of sympathetic plaintiffs.
Finally, the Amici devote the last section of their brief to the claim that support for traditional marriage is not unconstitutional animus. Although BLAG also contends that DOMA is not motivated by animus, the Amici specifically claim that the Court’s animus jurisprudence does not support invalidating an otherwise constitutional statute based on the subjective motivations of individual legislators. Thus, where, as here, there is sufficient legislative history to indicate the law is rationally related to some legitimate governmental interest, the law cannot be invalidated by the improper motives of some legislators. Moreover, the Amici argue, there is no basis to equate support for the traditional definition of marriage with unconstitutional animus. They contend it is not irrational or bigoted to oppose the redefinition of marriage that is unknown to history or tradition.
The Amici did not present any entirely new interests or arguments in support of DOMA, but rather further explained and detailed interests that have already been discussed in the BLAG brief and in the court decisions below. It was an opportunity for the Amici to present more rationales connecting the asserted interests to DOMA but did not necessarily help in understanding BLAG’s arguments. In addition, the Amici characterized the potential for recognition of same-sex marriage as an orchestrated conspiracy to undermine their view of marriage, which may not have been appropriate for a party’s brief given its strong language.
[posted and edited by RR]
Sunday, March 17, 2013
With the oral argument in United States v. Windsor testing the constitutionality of DOMA set for March 27 (the day after the related Prop 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry), the amicus briefs have been piling up (and one more, from General Edwin Meese III and John Ashcroft, will apparently be added).
Recall that in United States v. Windsor, the constitutionality of DOMA is being argued by BLAG, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives, while Windsor (as well as the United States Government) argues that DOMA is unconstitutional. This unusual configuration raises some standing issues, but the merits briefs focus on the constitutionality of DOMA under the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.
In case you haven't had a chance to read each one of the amicus briefs, this week we highlight four briefs, in guest posts authored by CUNY School of Law students in Professor Andrea McArdle's "Judicial Writing Seminar." The student authors will briefly outline the arguments and then discuss what, if anything, the particular amicus brief adds to the parties' briefs.
Here's the line-up:
Meghan McLoughlin discusses the brief of Senators Orrin G. Hatch et. al in support of respondent BLAG.
Anetta Sookhdeo discusses the brief of the Scholars of the Constitutional Rights of Children in support of Windsor.
Versely Rosales discusses the brief of the National Association of Evangelicals; The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; The Romanian-American Evangelical Alliance of North America; and Truth in Action Ministries in support of BLAG.
Allison Reddy discusses the brief of the CATO Institute and the Constitutional Accountability Center in support of Windsor.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Debuting on line today is volume 37:1 of the NYU Review of Law & Social Change, a symposium issue dedicated to Perry v. Brown, now Hollingsworth v. Perry that is scheduled to be heard by the United States Supreme Court in 15 days.
According to the Introduction, the Symposium editors sought to present the issue as a "time capsule," filled with "leading and emerging voices in the LGBTQ movement" as well as other scholars, "reflecting on Perry before the Court has its final say, before anyone gets the benefit of 20/20 hindsight." The comments were "first drafted before the Court had even granted certiorari" on the premise that Perry was already an important case.
The Symposium participants were asked to address three queries. Here are the questions and the participants:
The Symposium will also be available as a print issue, but meanwhile having its full contents available before the arguments makes it more valuable as a daily - - - or weekly - - - read.
Friday, March 8, 2013
Apropos of International Women's Day today, President Obama's signing of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) yesterday is the daily read, including the official remarks and the video below.
As the President's remarks reflect, the version of VAWA that passed Congress is notable because it includes protections for Native Americans (expanding tribal jurisdiction), for undocumented persons, and for persons in same-sex relationships.
And they are also notable for his shout-out to one of my former students, Sharon Stapel, for her work.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
In the latest chapter of McCormack v. Hiedeman, District Judge Lynn Winmill issued a 42 page opinion (Memorandum Decision and Order) yesterday holding various provisions in Idaho's abortion law unconstitutional, including the 20 week pregnancy ban unconstitutional.
Recall that the Ninth Circuit last year found that Idaho's prosecution of McCormack for "self-abortion" constituted an undue burden and was unconstitutional. McCormack, who purchased abortion "medications" over the internet, was the subject of an excellent indepth article which we discussed here. At that time, it seemed as if the case was concluded.
However, Judge Winmill rejected the prosecutor's argument that the case was moot, noting that a party "cannot conjure up mootness by ceasing the challenged conduct only for practical or strategic reasons - - - such as avoiding litigation." The judge further held that the prosecutor's promise not to prosecute would not bind his successors and that his subsequent offer of transactional immunity to McCormack was not timely or binding. Further, the judge noted that pregnancy is "capable of repetition yet evading review."
Judge Winmill also held that the physician in the case had standing, including to assert his patients' constitutional claims.
On the merits, Judge Winmill held that the self-abortion provision is a substantial obstacle and therefore unconstitutional, adopting the Ninth Circuit's reasoning.
Judge Winmill also held unconstitutional the provisions imposing criminal liability on abortion providers who perform first trimester abortions outside a hospital or a properly staffed and equipped office or a clinic and requires that “physicians have made satisfactory arrangements” for emergency hospital care. The judge accepted the physician's argument that the terms “properly” and “satisfactory” are unconstitutionally vague therefore placing an undue burden on women seeking first trimester abortions. There is some confusion in the judge's reliance on Gonzales v. Carhart in this passage, but the judge finds that the Idaho statute is not sufficiently specific.
Additionally, the judge found unconstitutional the Idaho provisions banning abortions at twenty weeks in PUCPA, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. He reasoned that PUCPA does not contain mention the health or safety of the pregnant woman, that its only purpose was to limit the available options for the woman, and that the legislature cannot place viability at a set point.
Given this opinion, it is likely that McCormack v. Heidman will be returning to the Ninth Circuit.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Does the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) accomplish the purpose of defending opposite-sex marriage? This question, or at least some version of it, is at the heart of the Supreme Court's consideration of United States v. Windsor, as well as of Hollingsworth v. Perry to the extent that Prop 8 is considered a state DOMA.
In a new article, I Wanna Marry You: An Empirical Analysis of the Irrelevance and Distraction of DOMAs, available in draft on ssrn, LawProf Deirdre Bowen (pictured) argues that the numbers simply don't add up to providing support for the proposition.
As her central task, Bowen takes as her comparators states with DOMAs, including constitutional amendments and statutes, and states without DOMAs and examines their marriage and divorce rates from 1999-2010 to discover whether DOMA correlates with marital stability and strength. Her analysis "suggests that DOMA states do not fare any better than non-DOMA states in terms of the strengthening marriage" and in fact, "DOMA states tend to have lower marriage rates, larger declines in the trend towards marriage, and greater divorce rates."
Her empirical query answered, Bowen the contends that not only is DOMA irrelevant, it serves as a distraction from the real threats that certain economic and social policies pose to family stability, especially with regards to children. Whatever the Court decides, she implies, will not be sufficient to solve the problem of family volatility.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Law students (and future law students) are watching this on The Colbert Report:
(h/t Chase Vine)