Monday, May 19, 2014

Oregon District Judge Declares Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Joining a decided trend which we last discussed here and here, today Oregon District Judge Michael McShane declared unconstitutional the state’s same-sex marriage prohibition in Article 15 of the state constitution. Judge McShane’s 26 page  opinion in Geiger v. Kitzhaber concludes that because “Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest, the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

275px-OR_2004_m36.svg
voting in 2004 ballot measure defining marriage as man/woman only: red is no; green is yes; dark green is yes by 2/3 or more; via

Judge McShane noted that the state defendants “concede that Oregon's marriage laws banning same-gender marriage are unconstitutional and legally indefensible, but state they are legally obligated to enforce the laws until this court declares the laws unconstitutional,” and thus, the case “presents itself to this court as something akin to a friendly tennis match rather than a contested and robust proceeding between adversaries.”  However, McShane did not find (or analyze) any Article III “case or controversies” issues, or address standing (including defendant standing).

Judge McShane notes that last term’s decision in Windsor v. United States  finding DOMA unconstitutional

may be distinguished from the present case in several respects. Yet, recounting such differences will not detract from the underlying principle shared in common by that case and the one now before me. The principle is one inscribed in the Constitution, and it requires that the state's marriage laws not "degrade or demean" the plaintiffs in violation of their rights to equal protection.

Unlike Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court in Windsor, however, Judge McShane’s opinion in Geiger is quite specific regarding the level of scrutiny being applied: rational basis.  McShane rejected two arguments for intermediate scrutiny.  First, he rejected the argument based upon a gender classification, concluding that the “targeted group here is neither males nor females, but homosexual males and homosexual females” and thus the state's marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, not gender.  Second, he rejected the applicability of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs, reasoning that the panel's decision in SmithKline is not yet a truly final and binding decision given that the mandate has not issued pending en banc review. (Recall that last week, a federal district judge in Idaho found "SmithKline’s examination of Windsor is authoritative and binding").

Judge McShane then engaged in the by now familiar analysis of government interests - - - including protecting traditional marriage and promoting responsible procreation - - - and their relationship to the same-sex marriage prohibition.  Like his fellow judges in recent cases, Judge McShane found rational basis is not satisfied.

And like some of his fellow judges, McShane shared his personal perspective.  McShane's provided his in an extended conclusion:

I am aware that a large number of Oregonians, perhaps even a majority, have religious or moral objections to expanding the definition of civil marriage (and thereby expanding the benefits and rights that accompany marriage) to gay and lesbian families. It was these same objections that led to the passage of Measure 36 in 2004 [the ballot measure defining marriage as only between a man and a woman]. Generations of Americans, my own included, were raised in a world in which homosexuality was believed to be a moral perversion,
a mental disorder, or a mortal sin. I remember that one of the more popular playground games of my childhood was called "smear the queer" and it was played with great zeal and without a moment's thought to today' s political correctness. On a darker level, that same worldview led to an environment of cruelty, violence, and self-loathing. It was but 1~86 when the United States Supreme Court justified, on the basis of a"millennia of moral teaching," the imprisonment of gay men and lesbian women who engaged in consensual sexual acts. Bowers, 478 U.S. at 197 (Burger, C.J., concurring), overruled by Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 578. Even today I am reminded ofthe legacy that we have bequeathed today's generation when my son looks dismissively at the sweater I bought him for Christmas and, with a roll of his eyes, says "dad ... that is so gay."

It is not surprising then that many of us raised with such a world view would wish to protect our beliefs and our families by turning to the ballot box to enshrine in law those traditions we have come to value. But just as the Constitution protects the expression of these moral viewpoints, it equally protects the minority from being diminished by them.

It is at times difficult to see past the shrillness of the debate. Accusations of religious bigotry and banners reading "God Hates Fags" make for a messy democracy and, at times, test the First Amendment resolve of both sides. At the core of the Equal Protection Clause, however, there exists a foundational belief that certain rights should be shielded from the barking crowds; that certain rights are subject to ownership by all and not the stake hold of popular trend or shifting majorities.

My decision will not be the final word on this subject, but on this issue of marriage I am struck more by our similarities than our differences. I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.

Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other ... and rise.

 Judge McShane's opinion ends with a exhortation perhaps more befitting religious rhetoric than legal analysis.

 

May 19, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

India's Supreme Court Recognizes Transgender Constitutional Rights of Equality as "Third Gender"

In its opinion National Legal Services v. India, the Supreme Court of India has recognized the constitutional rights of transgender persons, including the right not to be denominated as either "male" or "female." 

 The opinion by K.S. Radhakrishnan begins with an invocation of the "trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender community undergo" but rather quickly also invokes the cultural roots and importance of the community: "TG Community comprises of Hijras, eunuchs, Kothis, Aravanis, Jogappas, Shiv-Shakthis etc. and they, as a group, have got a strong historical presence in our country in the Hindu mythology and other religious texts." 

436px-Constitution_of_IndiaThe judgment rests on an interpretation of several provisions of the Constitution of India, including Article 14 (equality before law); Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on the basis of various grounds, including sex); Article 16 (equality of opportunity in public employment, including sex); Article 19 (including freedom of expression); and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty).  The judgment engaged in some originalist reasoning that broadly interpreted "sex" to include sex-stereotyping:

Constitution makers, it can be gathered, gave emphasis to the fundamental right against sex discrimination so as to prevent the direct or indirect attitude to treat people differently, for the reason of not being in conformity with stereotypical generalizations of binary genders. Both gender and biological attributes constitute distinct components of sex. Biological characteristics, of course, include genitals, chromosomes and secondary sexual features, but gender attributes include one’s self image, the deep psychological or emotional sense of sexual identity and character. The discrimination on the ground of ‘sex’ under Articles 15 and 16, therefore, includes discrimination on the ground of gender identity. The expression ‘sex’ used in Articles 15 and 16 is not just limited to biological sex of male or female, but intended to include people who consider themselves to be neither male or female.

Given this interpretation, the Court not suprisingly ruled

We, therefore, conclude that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the effect of nullifying or transposing equality by the law or the equal protection of laws guaranteed under our Constitution, and hence we are inclined to give various directions to safeguard the constitutional rights of the members of the TG community.

The Court has some interesting discussions of dress and grooming as an aspect of gender which included references to US cases and is further discussed here. 

The Court also specifically disavowed any relationship between its present judgment in National Legal Services v. India and the controversial opinion Koushal v. NAZ Foundation decided in December in which the Court - - - or as the Court states here "A Division Bench of this Court" reversed the 2009 decision of the Delhi High Court that §377 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional under the India Constitution and upheld India's sodomy law as constitutional:

we express no opinion on it [Kousal] since we are in these cases concerned with an altogether different issue pertaining to the constitutional and other legal rights of the transgender community and their gender identity and sexual orientation.

In a separate judgment, A.K. Sikiri did not mention the sodomy decision in Koushal v. Naz Foundation, but the judgment's expansive rhetoric could be read as an implicit disagreement with that decision as well as serving as a further butressing of today's judgment.  The concurring opinion elaborated on the importance of TG persons and communities to India's culture. It referenced Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, Amartya Sen as providing the "jurisprudential basis for doing justice to the Vulnerable Groups which definitely include TGs."  It explicitly stated the "dynamic" and "living character" of the Constitution and its interpretation.  It considered judicial review in the context of democracy (including, implicitly, "sexual democracy") and decidedly opined that it is the role of the judiciary to "ensure access to justice to the marginalized section of the society," and that undoubtedly "TGs belong to the unprivileged class which is a marginalized section."

The judgment not only requires the government to recognize a "third gender" and to grant "legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender," but also directs the government to take positive steps in education, health provisions, and "seriously address" various problems. 

April 15, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Federal District Judge Rules Ohio's Same-Sex Marriage Recognition Ban Unconstitutional

In the widely anticipated opinion in Henry v. Himes,  Judge Timothy Black has ruled that Ohio Const. Art. XV, § 11 and  Ohio Rev. Code § 3101.01(C) denying legal recognition to the marriages of same-sex couples validly entered in other jurisdictions violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

Recall that Judge Black previously issued an opinion in Obergefell v. Kasich with a similar conclusion, although that opinion was limited to the particular plaintiffs.  Judge Black's preliminary injunction ruling in Obergefell was the first post-Windsor decision on same sex marriage, and interestingly used some of Justice Scalia's dissenting language to support his reasoning

740px-OhioWhile Obergefell involved a person who was dying, the plaintiffs in Henry are same-sex couples expecting children or with children.  The four plaintiff couples, who entered into valid marriages in other jurisdictions, seek to have the names of both parents recorded on their children’s Ohio birth certificates and a declaration that Ohio’s refusal to recognize valid same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.  Judge Black relied heavily on his previous rationale in Obergefell, and again found that while marriage is a fundamental right, the Supreme Court has not explicitly recognized it as such, and "the balancing approach of intermediate scrutiny is appropriate in this similar instance where Ohio is intruding into – and in fact erasing – Plaintiffs’ already- established marital and family relations."  Again, Judge Black footnotes Professor Steve Sanders work on the liberty interest in having one's marriage recognized. 

In the equal protection analysis, Judge Black does advance a distinct rationale for "heightened scrutiny" given that the children's birth certificates are involved.  He writes that the "Supreme Court has long held that disparate treatment of children based on disapproval of their parents’ status or conduct violates the Equal Protection Clause," citing Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982).  But, as in Obergefell, he also explicitly found that even if rational basis were applied, the Ohio provisions failed to satisfy it.

On the last page of Judge Black's opinion is the text of a song, "Happy Adoption Day" (1992).  For some, this will seem appropriate and celebratory.  For others, this will seem indecorous and treacly. Judge Black's previous statements have displeased at least one state representative - - - who has introduced a resolution in the Ohio legislature calling for the House of Representatives of Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings. 

 

April 14, 2014 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Michigan District Judge Declares State's Prohibition on Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional

Following the trend which we most recently discussed here and here, Senior United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan, Bernard Friedman, declared the state's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional in his  opinion today in DeBoer v. Snyder.

At issue was Michigan's state constitutional amendment, Mich. Const. Art. I, § 25, which the court referred to as the Michigan Marriage Amendment, MMA, passed by voter referendum in November 2004.  The judge held a trial limiting the issue to whether the MMA "passed rational basis review" under the Fourteenth Amendment and held that it did not because it violated the Equal Protection Clause.  The court stated it therefore did not reach the Due Process Clause question.

The state proffered the by now familiar government interests to satisfy the required "legitimate" government interest:

  1.  providing an optimal environment for child rearing;
  2. proceeding with caution before altering the traditional definition of marriage; and
  3. upholding tradition and morality.

489px-1836_MichiganIn evaluating each of these, the judge reached the by now familiar conclusions.  Judge Friedman discussed the evidence at trial, holding that there was "no logical connection between banning same- sex marriage and providing children with an 'optimal environment' or achieving 'optimal outcomes;'" that the "wait and see" approach did not satisfy the legitimate government interest standard; and finally that upholding tradition and morality likewise did not satisfy the legitimate government interest standard, citing several of the recent cases that have held likewise. 

Additionally, Judge Friedman rejected the state's "federalism" argument that sought to distinguish United States v. Windsor, relying heavily on Loving v. Virginia.  As the judge phrased it:

Taken together, both the Windsor and Loving decisions stand for the proposition that, without some overriding legitimate interest, the state cannot use its domestic relations authority to legislate families out of existence. Having failed to establish such an interest in the context of same-sex marriage, the MMA cannot stand.

The judge also rejected the argument that the MMA's status as a constitutional amendment prompted by voter referendum was relevant, quoting the famous language from the 1943 flag-salute First Amendment case of West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette: the "very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy" and "to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts."

Judge Friedman's decision is closely and carefully reasoned, although it closes with a rhetorical paragraph that labels the opinion "a step in the right direction."

The Judge enjoined the enforcement of the same-sex marriage ban and unlike some other judges, he did not order a stay.

[image: Map of Michigan circa 1836 via]

 

March 21, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Daily Read: Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group

Writing for a unanimous Court in 1995, Justice Souter in Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group held that the First Amendment rights of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council (and its individual member John "Wacko" Hurley) allowed the exclusion of the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group (GLIB) from the St. Patrick's Day Parade, despite the Massachusetts' public accommodation law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Rainbow-shamrockJustice Souter famously opined that although the parade might seem not to have a particularized message that would be inconsistent with GLIB, its message was as particularized as "the unquestionably shielded painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schonberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll."

Some St. Patrick's Day parades continue to exclude identified sexual minority groups, including the Boston one - - - in which Boston's mayor will reportedly not participate this year, and the New York City one - - - in which NYC's mayor will likewise reportedly not participate this year.  Other St. Patrick's Day parades do not ban LGBT groups.

March 17, 2014 in Association, First Amendment, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tennessee Federal Judge Issues a Narrow Injunction Regarding Prohibition of Same-Sex Marriage Recognition

In her opinion in Tanco v. Haslom, federal district judge in the Middle District of Tennessee, Aleta A. Trauger, decided that what she called the state's "Anti-Recognition Laws" are most likely unconstitutional as violative of equal protection, even under rational basis review.  She therefore enjoined the state from refusing to recognize the otherwise valid out-of-state marriages of the six plaintiffs in the case. 

Judge Trauger's opinion is relatively brief.  She highlights the United States Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor , and while she does not mention Justice Scalia's Windsor dissent, she does echo the cases that have, and notes the "rising tide" of cases that have relied on Windsor to find their state same-sex marriage prohibitions unconstitutional.  She states that she

finds Judge Heyburn’s equal protection analysis in Bourke [v. Beshear], which involved an analogous Kentucky anti-recognition law, to be especially persuasive with respect to the plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on the merits of their Equal Protection Clause.

1827_Finley_Map_of_Tennessee_-_Geographicus_-_Tennessee-finley-1827

 

While emphasizing the narrowness of her opinion and that the United States Supreme Court will ultimately rule on the matter, she concludes with a prediction:

At this point, all signs indicate that, in the eyes of the United States Constitution, the plaintiffs’ marriages will be placed on an equal footing with those of heterosexual couples and that proscriptions against same-sex marriage will soon become a footnote in the annals of American history.

[image: 1827 map of Tennessee via]

March 15, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Constitutional Challenge to Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Law

Uganda's controversial law, The Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014, long-linked to United States Evangelicals, has been challenged as unconstitutional by a petition filed in the Constitutional Court of Uganda.

The vast majority of the claims of unconstitutionality focus on the rights provisions in the Uganda Constitution, including explicit rights of equality, privacy, dignity, civic participation, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, expression, for persons with disabilities, and fair hearing.  The claims also rely on the principles in the "National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy" which are part of the Constitution.

Coat_of_Arms_of_Uganda

Here are a few examples of the ultimate legal arguments in the petition:

THAT sections 1, 2 and 4 of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, in defining and criminalising consensual same sex/gender sexual activity among adults in private, are in contravention of the right to equality before the law without any discrimination and the right to privacy guaranteed under Articles 2(1) & (2), 21(1), (2) & (4) and 27 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda respectively;

THAT section 2(1)(c) of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, in criminalising touching by persons of the same sex, creates an offence that is overly broad and is in contravention of the principle of legality under article Articles 2(1) & (2), 28(1), (3b), (12), 42 and 44(c) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda;

THAT Sections 7 and 13(1) & (2) of Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, in criminalising aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring and promotion of homosexuality, create offences that are overly broad, penalise legitimate debate, professional counsel, HIV related service provision and access to health services, in contravention of the principle of legality, the freedoms of expression, thought, assembly and association, and the right to civic participation guaranteed under principle XIV of the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, Articles 2(1) & (2), 8A, 28(1), (3b), & (12), 29(1), 36, 38(2), 42 and 44(c) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995.

There are certainly many who hope the Uganda Constitutional Court will look to the prestigious Constitutional Court of South Africa for guidance in deciding these issues, although unlike the South African Constitution, the Uganda Constitution does not have an explicit provision protection sexual orientation.

[H/T Tony Tate]
[Image of Uganda Coat of Arms via]

 

March 14, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, International, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Justice Scalia's Dissents and the Post Windsor Same-Sex Marriage Cases

There have been a spate of federal judges declaring state constitutional or statutory provisions banning recognition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment: 

De Leon v. Perry, from the Western District of Texas;
Bostic v. Rainey  from the Eastern District of Virginia;
Bourke v. Beshear from the Western District of Kentucky; 
Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma;
Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio;
Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah;
Lee v. Orr applicable only to Chicago.

Other than Lee v. Orr, in which the judge was only ruling on an earlier start date for same-sex marriage than the Illinois legislature had declared, the judges in each of these cases relied on Justice Scalia's dissenting opinions.

In "Justice Scalia’s Petard and Same-Sex Marriage," over at CUNY Law Review's "Footnote Forum," I take a closer look at these cases and their relationship to Shakespeare's famous phrase from Hamlet.

 

350px-Petardsketch2
"A petard, from a seventeenth century manuscript of military designs" via

 

 

March 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Theory, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Federal Judge Declares Texas Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Judge Orlando Garcia's opinion in DeLeon v. Perry  issuing a preliminary injunction against a state constitutional same-sex marriage ban because it is most likely unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment today marks the sixth time in recent weeks that a federal judge has reached such a conclusion.

Indeed, Judge Garcia's opinion relies upon these previous opinions in Bostic v. Rainey  from the Eastern District of Virginia, Bourke v. Beshear from the Western District of Kentucky;  Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma, Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio, and Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah, as well as upon the Supreme Court's opinion in United States v. Windsor declaring §3 of DOMA unconstitutional.

800px-1866_Johnson_Map_of_Texas_-_Geographicus_-_Texas-johnson-1866Judge Garcia's 38 page opinion begins with an extensive discussion of the parties, the statutory and state constitutional scheme in Texas barring same sex marriage, and even a discussion of the "national debate on same sex marriage beginning with the Hawai'i Supreme Court's 1993 decision in Baehr v. Lewin.   As a preliminary matter, he not only analyzes the standing issue, but also the United States Supreme Court's summary disposition in Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), which would seem to have been rendered irrelevant by Windsor.

On the merits - - - or more properly, on the "likelihood to succeed on the merits" prong of the preliminary judgment analysis - - - Judge Garcia's analysis is well-crafted and closely reasoned. 

Regarding equal protection, his analysis of the contention that sexual orientation merits heightened scrutiny is well-done, although he ultimately concludes that it is unnecessary to apply heightened scrutiny because "Texas' ban on same-sex marriage fails even under the most deferential rational basis level of review."  He concludes that the two government interests that the State proffers as supporting the same sex marriage ban as failing rational basis review.  First, the state's desire "to increase the likelihood that a mother and a father will be in charge of childrearing" is reinterpreted simply as childrearing.  As such, while the interest may be legitimate, it is not rationally served by banning same-sex marriage.  Second, the state's desire "to encourage stable family environments for responsible procreation" is similarly not served.  Third, Judge Garcia discusses "tradition," that while it was not explicitly advanced by the State, undergirds many of the State's arguments.  Here Judge Garcia finds that the interest is not legitmate.

In his analysis of due process, Judge Garcia, like Judge Allen in Bostic, finds marriage to be a fundamental right.  Judge Garcia marshalls the Supreme Court precedent thusly:

The State does not dispute that the right to marry is one of the fundamental rights protected by the United States Constitution. Oral Arg. Tr. p. 37 (arguing Texas marriage law does not violate Plaintiffs' "fundamental" right to marry). See, e.g., Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 384 (1978) ("[D]ecisions of this Court confirm that the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals."); United States v. Kras, 409 U.S. 434, 446 (1973) (concluding the Court has come to regard marriage as fundamental); Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967) ( The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."); Skinner v. Okla. ex. rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942) (noting marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man fundamental to our existence and survival); Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190, 205, 211 (1888) (characterizing marriage as "the most important relation in life" and as "the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.").

He thus applies strict scrutiny and the same-sex marriage ban fails.

Judge Garcia also considers the failure to recognize an out of state same-sex marriage, as required by Texas law, and subjects this to rational basis, and analogizing to Windsor, finds this also easily fails.The opinion does seemingly address a popular audience, but even here Judge Garcia grounds his rhetoric in precedent:

Today's Court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution. Furthermore, Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from passing legislation bom out of animosity against homosexuals (Romer), has extended constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals (Lawrence), and prohibits the federal government from treating state-sanctioned opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently (Windsor).

Judge Garcia stayed his opinion, mindful of the stay in Herbert v. Kitchen. Thus until the Fifth Circuit hears the case - - - or another decision - - - same sex marriages will not be occurring in Texas.

[image: map of Texas circa 1866 via]

February 26, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Same-Sex Marriage in Chicago, but not all of Illinois until June 1

In her very brief opinion and order in Lee v. Orr, United States District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman found that Illinois' same-sex marriage ban - - - already changed by the legislature but not effective until June 1, 2014 because of state constitutional requirements  - - - was unconstitutional.  

The judge's reasoning was understandably scanty: Not only did the parties' agree that summary judgment was appropriate because there was no disputed issues of fact, but they essentially agreed that there were not disputed issues of law:

There is no dispute here that the ban on same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and infringes on the plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marry. Indeed, the defendant and intervenor have joined in plaintiffs’ motion, with the caveat the defendant David Orr is bound to follow the law in Illinois.

The sticking points were the remedies.

First, and less sticky, was the timing.  The judge quoted Martin Luther King for her reasoning to extend previous rulings:

the focus in this case shifts from the “we can’t wait” for terminally ill individuals to “why should we wait” for all gay and lesbian couples that want to marry. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: the time is always ripe to do right. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., WHY WE CAN’T WAIT 74 (1964).

Chicago map 1871

 

Second, and stickier, was the place:

The plaintiffs are asking this Court to strike down a state statute, although they have brought suit solely against the Cook County Clerk. . . . Although this Court finds that the marriage ban for same-sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause on its face, this finding can only apply to Cook County based upon the posture of the lawsuit.

Absent additional litigation - - - and different lawyering - - - same-sex marriage in Illinois is available in Chicago now and the rest of the state starting June 1.

[image: map of Chicago, circa 1871, via]

February 22, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fundamental Rights, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Federal District Judge Declares Virginia's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Judge Arenda Wright Allen's opinion in Bostic v. Rainey concludes that Virginia's statutory and state constitutional provisions banning same-sex marriages or their recognition violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

Judge Allen's due process analysis begins by declaring that there "can be no serious doubt that in America the right to marry is a rigorously protected fundamental right" and she therefore subjects Virginia's marriage laws to strict scrutiny.  Given this formulation, she easily concludes that the state's proferred interests of tradition, federalism, and  "responsible procreation" coupled with "optimal child rearing" are not satisfactory.  The analysis often reverts to the language of lesser scrutiny, including this explicit statement regarding the procreation/child-rearing interest:

This rationale fails under the applicable strict scrutiny test as well as a rational-basis review. Of course the welfare of our children is a legitimate state interest. However, limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples fails to further this interest. Instead, needlessly stigmatizing and humiliating children who are being raised by the loving couples targeted by Virginia’s Marriage Laws betrays that interest.

711px-1848_Greenleaf_Map_of_Virginia_-_Geographicus_-_Virginia-greenleaf-1848Judge Allen's equal protection analysis is substantially shorter and makes the articulates the application of rational basis scrutiny even more explicit:

Virginia’s Marriage Laws fail to display a rational relationship to a legitimate purpose, and so must be viewed as constitutionally infirm under even the least onerous level of scrutiny. . . . 

The legitimate purposes proffered by the Proponents for the challenged laws—to promote conformity to the traditions and heritage of a majority of Virginia’s citizens, to perpetuate a generally-recognized deference to the state’s will pertaining to domestic relations laws, and, finally, to endorse "responsible procreation"—share no rational link with Virginia Marriage Laws being challenged. The goal and the result of this legislation is to deprive Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens of the opportunity and right to choose to celebrate, in marriage, a loving, rewarding, monogamous relationship with a partner to whom they are committed for life. These results occur without furthering any legitimate state purpose.

Judge Allen's opinion may be criticized as being longer on rhetoric than on exemplary legal analysis - - - a charge similar to that leveled against Justice Kennedy's opinion for the Court in United States v. Windsor declaring §3 of DOMA unconstitutional, upon which Judge Allen rightly relies.  Judge Allen's numerous of invocations of Loving v. Virginia - - - including beginning the opinion with an extensive quote from Mildred Loving - - - have special resonance in Virginia.  Yet at times, lofty language veers toward inaccuracy, as when the opinion states that "Our Constitution declares that 'all men' are created equal."  (That's the wording of the Declaration of Independence not the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause).  Others may contest that there can be "no serious doubt" that marriage is a fundamental right. 

Nevertheless, Judge Allen's opinion follows on the heels of four other opinions by federal district judges reaching the same conclusion about their respective state laws and constitutional provisions:  Bourke v. Beshear from the Western District of Kentucky;  Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma, Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio, and Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah (now stayed). 

Judge Allen stayed the injunction against enforcement of the Virginia same-sex marriage ban, pending resolution by the Fourth Circuit. 

But recall that the Virginia Attorney General has declared that he will not defend Virginia's same-sex marriage ban, a position that might mean that Judge Allen's opinion never reaches the Fourth Circuit as we analyzed here.

[image: 1848 map of Virginia via]

February 14, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Race, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Kentucky Federal Judge Rules State's Nonrecognition of Same-Sex Marriages Violates Equal Protection

United States District Judge John G. Heyburn's  opinion in Bourke v. Beshear finds that Kentucky's statutory and state constitutional provisions defining marriage as limited to one man and one woman violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause when applied to same-sex spouses married in another state.

The judge's 23 page opinion is crafted for both a nonlegal and legal audience. 

For popular consumption, Judge Heyburn's opinion has passages written in direct prose answering questions he himself has posed and unburdened with extensive citations.  For example, he writes:

For many others, this decision could raise basic questions about our Constitution. For instance, are courts creating new rights? Are judges changing the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment or our Constitution? Why is all this happening so suddenly?

The answer is that the right to equal protection of the laws is not new. History has already shown us that, while the Constitution itself does not change, our understanding of the meaning of its protections and structure evolves.  If this were not so, many practices that we now abhor would still exist.

800px-Collier's_1921_Kentucky
He discusses religiosity in similar terms, beginning by noting that many Kentuckians believe "what their ministers and scriptures tell them: that a marriage is a sacrament instituted between God and a man and a woman for society’s benefit" and later opining that

The beauty of our Constitution is that it accommodates our individual faith’s definition of marriage while preventing the government from unlawfully treating us differently. This is hardly surprising since it was written by people who came to America to find both freedom of religion and freedom from it.

For its legal audience, Judge Heyburn's opinion contains a rigorous analysis of equal protection doctrine, of the Supreme Court's decision last June in United States v. Windsor, and of the courts applying Windsor. 

Engaging with the Court's opinion in Windsor, authored by Justice Kennedy, Judge Heyburn expresses some frustration with the lack of clear equal protection doctrine, observing that the Court "never clearly explained the applicable standard of review."  Nevertheless, Judge Heyburn used two "principles" of Windsor: that the actual purpose of the law must be considered in light of animus and that the laws must not demean one group by depriving them of the rights provided for others.  Ultimately, Judge Heyburn applies rational basis review and finds that the government interests proferred by Kentucky - - - as well as those advanced in an amicus brief submitted by the Family Trust Foundation of Kentucky - - - are not legitimate interests.

Judge Heyburn also discusses the three federal district judges who have reached similar conclusions in "well-reasoned opinions," citing the opinions in Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma, Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio, and Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah (now stayed).

To be clear, the effect of the opinion is not to mandate clerks in Kentucky begin offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  But it is to require Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages valid in another state as valid in Kentucky on the same terms as other marriages.

[image: 1921 map of Kentucky via]

February 13, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Aftermath of Windsor in the Federal Government: AG Holder's Memo

Citing United States v. Windsor, declaring DOMA's section 3 unconstitutional, in a Memorandum issued on Monday February 10, Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that it is the policy of the federal government to "recognize same-sex marriages as broadly as possible."  Holder discussed the forthcoming memo in a speech delivered the previous weekend.

Memo DOJ

In the memo, Holder specifies that marriage recognition will extend to "same-sex marriages, valid in the jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated to the extent consistent with the law."  This shifts the marriage validity question away from domicile or residence. 

Importantly, in footnote 1 of the Memo, Holder notes that the policy is limited to marriage and "does not apply to individuals who have entered into another similar relationship such as a domestic partnership or civil union, recognized under state law that is not denominated as a marriage under the laws of that state."

Holder also expresses pride in the DOJ's role in the litigation challenging DOMA, citing his 2011 letter concluding that sexual orientation classifications should be subject to strict scrutiny and that DOMA failed this constitutional test.

One of the more interesting aspects of Holder's Memo is the discussion of marital testimonial privileges.  Holder directs prosecutors to apply the memo "prospectively" - - - to conduct that occurred on or after the date of the Windsor decision (and not the date of the 2011 Holder memo or the present memo).

February 11, 2014 in Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Family, Fundamental Rights, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Ban: Petition for Certiorari After Ninth Circuit Declines En Banc Review

Liberty Counsel, the organization that challenged California's ban on reparative therapy, has filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.

Recall that the Ninth Circuit upheld the California statute in Pickup v. Brown in August 2013.  The  panel concluded that on the continuum between speech and conduct, California's SB 1172 landed on conduct, "where the state's power is great, even though such regulation may have an incidental effect on speech."   Applying a rational basis standard, the court rejected the claim that California legislature acted irrationally.  

The Ninth Circuit has issued an opinion and rejected en banc rehearing over a dissent by Judge O’Scannlain, joined by Judges Bea and Ikuta.  The dissenting opinion began with a forceful "issue statement" worthy of an oral argument:

May the legislature avoid First Amendment judicial scrutiny by defining disfavored talk as “conduct”? That is what these cases are really about.

Inside_my_head_croppedInterestingly, the original panel - - - Judge Susan Graber, joined by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Judge Morgan Christen - - - included an amended panel opinion accompanying the denial of the en banc rehearing.  This amended panel opinion adds two passages that discuss United States Supreme Court precedent on the "conduct" issue with which the dissenters disagreed. 

First, Judge Graber adds a brief discussion  [in italics below] before the more detailed discussion of Ninth Circuit precedent:

The first step in our analysis is to determine whether SB 1172 is a regulation of conduct or speech. “[W]ords can in some circumstances violate laws directed not against speech but against conduct . . . .” R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 389 (1992). “Congress, for example, can prohibit employers from discriminating in hiring on the basis of race. The fact that this will require an employer to take down a sign reading ‘White Applicants Only’ hardly means that the law should be analyzed as one regulating the employer’s speech rather than conduct.” Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic & Institutional Rights, Inc. (“FAIR II”), 547 U.S. 47, 62 (2006). The Supreme Court has made clear that First Amendment protection does not apply to conduct that is not “inherently expressive.” Id. at 66. In identifying whether SB 1172 regulates conduct or speech, two of our cases guide our decision: National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis v. California Board of Psychology (“NAAP”), 228 F.3d 1043 (9th Cir. 2000), and Conant v. Walters, 309 F.3d 629 (9th Cir. 2002).

Second, and more substantially, the amended opinion includes a discussion of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project upon which the dissenting opinion relied, as well as expanding the reliance on Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic & Institutional Rights, Inc. (“FAIR II”):

Plaintiffs contend that Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 130 S. Ct. 2705 (2010), supports their position. It does not.

As we have explained, SB 1172 regulates only (1) therapeutic treatment, not expressive speech, by (2) licensed mental health professionals acting within the confines of the counselor-client relationship. The statute does not restrain Plaintiffs from imparting information or disseminating opinions; the regulated activities are therapeutic, not symbolic. And an act that “symbolizes nothing,” even if employing language, is not “an act of communication” that transforms conduct into First Amendment speech. Nev. Comm’n on Ethics v. Carrigan, 131 S. Ct. 2343, 2350 (2011). Indeed, it is well recognized that a state enjoys considerable latitude to regulate the conduct of its licensed health care professionals in administering treatment. See, e.g., Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124, 157 (2007) (“Under our precedents it is clear the State has a significant role to play in regulating the medical profession.”).

In sharp contrast, Humanitarian Law Project pertains to a different issue entirely: the regulation of (1) political speech (2) by ordinary citizens. The plaintiffs there sought to communicate information about international law and advocacy to a designated terrorist organization. The federal statute at issue barred them from doing so, because it considered the plaintiffs’ expression to be material support to terrorists. As the Supreme Court held, the material support statute triggered rigorous First Amendment review because, even if that statute “generally functions as a regulation of conduct . . . as applied to plaintiffs the conduct triggering coverage under the statute consists of communicating a message.” Humanitarian Law Project, 130 S. Ct. at 2724 (second emphasis added).6 Again, SB 1172 does not prohibit Plaintiffs from “communicating a message.” Id. It is a state regulation governing the conduct of state-licensed professionals, and it does not pertain to communication in the public sphere. Plaintiffs may express their views to anyone, including minor patients and their parents, about any subject, including SOCE, insofar as SB 1172 is concerned. The only thing that a licensed professional cannot do is avoid professional discipline for practicing SOCE on a minor patient.

This case is more akin to FAIR II. There, the Supreme Court emphasized that it “extended First Amendment protection only to conduct that is inherently expressive.” 547 U.S. at 66 (emphasis added). The Court upheld the Solomon Amendment, which conditioned federal funding for institutions of higher education on their offering military recruiters the same access to campus and students that they provided to nonmilitary recruiters. The Court held that the statute did not implicate First Amendment scrutiny, even as applied to law schools seeking to express disagreement with military policy by limiting military recruiters’ access, reasoning that the law schools’ “actions were expressive only because the law schools accompanied their conduct with speech explaining it.” Id. at 51, 66. Like the conduct at issue in FAIR II, the administration of psychotherapy is not “inherently expressive.” Nor does SB 1172 prohibit any speech, either in favor of or in opposition to SOCE, that might accompany mental health treatment. Because SB 1172 regulates a professional practice that is not inherently expressive, it does not implicate the First Amendment.

It's fair to say that these passages - - - incorporating United States Supreme Court cases - - - are intended to communicate to the Supreme Court Justices why the Ninth Circuit panel opinion does not merit review.

A split in the circuits does not seem likely.  A New Jersey federal judge upheld the similar New Jersey statute prohibiting sexual conversion therapy under similar rationale.

[image via]

February 9, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Daily Read: Marsha Ternus on Being a (Former) Iowa Supreme Court Justice

In the National Law Journal, former Iowa Supreme Court Justice Marsha Ternus has published an insightful commentary entitled Politics on the Bench — a Judge's View of Partisanship at Play.

Recall that Justice Ternus was one of the justices in the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court's 2009 decision in Varnum v. Brien holding that the same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional under the state constitution's equality provision.  (The opinion remains one of the most closely reasoned and certainly well-structured of the numerous same-sex decisions).  She and two colleagues were then defeated in a 2010 merit retention election in which same-sex marriage was made a contentious issue.
 
In this commentary, Ternus argues that despite her experience in 2010, she continues "to believe that judicial merit selection systems like Iowa's, incorporating a nonpartisan screening commission and gubernatorial appointment, offer the best defense against politicized courts."  She contends that her experience was an "exception" rather than "the rule" and made her even more aware of "the reality faced every election year by prospective judges forced to campaign on partisan platforms, as they do in many other states." She argues that "courts composed of jurists elected on partisan platforms have an inherent polarization that can hardly be escaped."
Ternus' argument is gracious and sage.  But she does not address the lack of diversity, gender and otherwise, now present in the Supreme Court of Iowa.
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Current Justices of the Supreme Court of Iowa

January 27, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Can the Virginia Attorney General (Not) Do That? Analysis of the Virginia AG's decision not to defend the state same-sex marriage ban

 The Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, representing Janet M. Rainey, in her official capacity as State Registrar of Vital Records, has filed a Notice of Change of Position (and Memorandum in Support)  in Bostick v. Rainey, a case challenging the constitutionality of Virginia's same-sex marriage ban in federal district court.  

Herring-aug2The Complaint in Bostick, filed in September 2013, challenges both the Virginia Statute § 20-45.2. prohibiting marriages between persons of the same-sex (adopted in 1975) and the constitutional amendment, Article I, §15A, prohibiting not only marriages but other forms of relationship recognition, passed by ballot initiative in 2006.

The change of the state's position by Mark Herring, the newly elected Attorney General (pictured right) may have been unexpected in some quarters, but it replicates the United States Attorney General's decision not to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as well as California Attorney General Jerry Brown's decision not to defend the constitutionality of Proposition 8.   Recall that in the Proposition 8 trial, Perry v. Schwarzenneger, the constitutionality of Proposition 8 was defended by intervenors including protectmarriage.com, who the trial judge described as the “proponents” of Proposition 8.  When district judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, an appeal ensued, followed by questions about whether the "proponents" has standing to appeal.  Importantly, an attempt to obtain a writ of mandamus to mandate Governor Schwarzenegger appeal was unsuccessful.  And also importantly, the United States Supreme Court, in Hollingsworth v. Perry, decided that the "proponents" did not have standing to appeal, thus ultimately leaving the district judge's opinion valid.

The Proposition 8 litigation is thus an object lesson in the perils of the government not defending the constitutionality of the state laws at trial - - - it might insulate a district judge's finding of unconstitutionality from appeal.

On the other hand, the United States Supreme Court did find that there was standing to appeal in the Defense of Marriage case, United States v. Windsor, despite the fact that the United States was not actually defending the constitutionality of the DOMA statute.  The Court narrowly found that BLAG, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives who had taken up the defense of DOMA, at a substantial cost to taxpayers, had sufficient status to confer standing, or at least the case provided "sufficient adversarial presentation for the Court to decide to get to the merits."  (Recall that the Court appointed ConLawProf Vicki Jackson to brief and argue BLAG's standing).

Thus. should some parties in Virginia seek to defend the state statutory and constitutional scheme, they should seek to approximate BLAG rather than a more private proponent, even if one could find some proponent for the 1976 statute.

Barring any state laws to the contrary, the Virginia AG surely has the power to make a determination that the state action is unconstitutional and thus decline to defend it.  But it could prove a risky business when it comes to any party having standing on appeal should the district judge agree with the plaintiffs and with the state that the state scheme prohibiting same sex marriage is unconstitutional.

January 24, 2014 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Interpretation, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ninth Circuit Extends Batson's Equal Protection Doctrine Regarding Juror Exclusion to Sexual Orientation and Applies "Heightened" Scrutiny

In its opinion today in SmithKline Beecham Corporation (GSK) v. Abbott Laboratories, a unanimous panel of the Ninth Circuit extended the equal protection rule and analysis of Batson v. Kentucky (1986) regarding juror exclusions to those based on sexual orientation. 

Lady-justice-juryThe underlying dispute between the pharmaceutical companies involved HIV medications and during jury selection the attorneys for Abbott Laboratories "used its first peremptory strike against the only self-identified gay member of the venire."  The attorneys for GSK sought to initiate a Batson inquiry on the basis of sexual orientation.  The Batson analysis first requires a "prima facie" case of intentional discrimination, after which the striking party must offer a neutral reason for the strike, and then, third and last, the court makes a determination whether there has been an equal protection violation.

The district judge allowed the preemptory strike although said she would "reconsider her ruling if Abbott struck other gay men."  While the judge advised Abbott's attorney that “it might be the better part of valor” to reveal the basis for his strike, counsel "replied that he would rely on the grounds given by the judge and further explained, 'I don’t think any of the challenge applies. I have no idea whether he is gay or not.'"  Apparently he later "added that he could not have engaged in intentional discrimination because this was only his first strike." After a four week trial, the jury returned a "mixed verdict."

In the opinion authored by Judge Reinhardt, the Ninth Circuit held that there was a "prima facie" sufficient to have triggered the Batson inquiry, and using the record before it, then engaged in the second prong of the Batson analysis, finding  that Abbott's counsel did not provide a sufficient explanation. 

As to the third prong, the Ninth Circuit panel noted that generally attorneys may "exercise their peremptory challenges to remove from the venire any group or class of individuals normally subject to ‘rational basis’ review."  It then stated:  "Thus, if sexual orientation is subject to rational basis review, Abbott’s strike does not require reversal."

Judge Reinhardt's opinion for the panel concluded that sexual orientation receives "heightened scrutiny" under equal protection.  The opinion turned to "the Supreme Court’s most recent case on the relationship between equal protection and classifications based on sexual orientation": United States v. Windsor (2013),  holding that Windsor was "dispositive of the question of the appropriate level of scrutiny in this case," even as the Court's majority opinion in Windsor "did not expressly announce the level of scrutiny it applied to the equal protection claim at issue."   Judge Reinhardt correctly noted that the Court in Windsor did not apply a presumption of constitutionality or supply reasons for Congressional action in DOMA.

Windsor scrutiny “requires something more than traditional rational basis review.”  Windsor requires that when state action discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, we must examine its actual purposes and carefully consider the resulting inequality to ensure that our most fundamental institutions neither send nor reinforce messages of stigma or second-class status. In short, Windsor requires heightened scrutiny.

Thus, the Ninth Circuit's previous precedent applying rational basis to sexual orientation classifications was no longer valid.  Applying this heightened scrutiny, the Ninth Circuit found that the peremptory challenge was unconstitutional:

permitting a strike based on sexual orientation would send the false message that gays and lesbians could not be trusted to reason fairly on issues of great import to the community or the nation. Strikes based on preconceived notions of the identities, preferences, and biases of gays and lesbians reinforce and perpetuate these stereotypes.

In sum, the Ninth Circuit's extended Batson to sexual orientation classifications and used the term "heightened scrutiny" to comply with the doctrine that Batson did not apply to classifications that merited rational basis scrutiny. 

However, one might be reading too much into the opinion to conclude that the Ninth Circuit has ruled that sexual orientation classifications now merit heightened scrutiny akin to "intermediate scrutiny."  Indeed, the Ninth Circuit relies upon the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Windsor which it admits is less than clear about the level of scrutiny - - - and certainly much less clear than the Second Circuit's opinion in Windsor which determined and applied the intermediate level of equal protection scrutiny used in gender/sex classifications.

Instead, it seems that the Ninth Circuit read the "rational basis" exclusion from Batson to be the "mere" rationality test - - - often called the "anything goes" rational basis of Railway Express Agency v. New York (1949) (which the Ninth Circuit panel opinion did not cite) or Fed. Commc’n Comm’n v. Beach Commc’n, Inc.  (1993) (which the Ninth Circuit did cite and quote).   The "heightened scrutiny" that the Ninth Circuit finds - - - derived from Windsor - - - is akin to the "heightened rational basis" or "rational basis with bite" or "rational basis with teeth" that has become a common feature of equal protection doctrine for sexual orientation classifications.  While the Ninth Circuit opinion does not stress "animus," it does discuss Department of Agriculture v. Moreno (1973), including stating that the Ninth Circuit previously "acknowledged that Moreno applied “‘heightened’ scrutiny.”

Certainly, this is an important opinion: it extends Batson to sexual orientation classifications.  And it is also important to the litigation between two giant pharmaceutical corporations given that the case was remanded for a new trial.  However, it is not a landmark opinion that substantively changes (rather than clarifies or renames) the level of scrutiny for sexual orientation classifications in all equal protection cases.

[image via]

January 21, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Oklahoma District Judge Invalidates State's Prohibition of Same-Sex Marriage (But Stays Judgment)

In a lengthy opinion today in Bishop v. United States (Smith), Judge Terence Kern of the Northern District of Oklahoma found unconstitutional the state constitutional amendment, article 2, §35 that defines marriage as consisting "only of the union of one man and one woman," and further that no law "shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2004 soon after the state constitutional amendment, also challenged the federal DOMA, as well as other portions of the state "little DOMA" and includes several plaintiffs.  As to these challenges, the judge found a lack of standing.  However,  as to the definitional section of article 2, §35 (above), known as "Part A" of the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment, the judge found that the "Bishop couple" had standing - - - and that the provision violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Map_of_USA_highlighting_Oklahoma
As to the Equal Protection claim, the judge rejected the argument by Smith, the Oklahoma county clerk, that Baker v. Nelson (1972) was binding precedent.  More interestingly, the judge also rejected the argument that last Term's decision in Windsor v. United States, holding section 3 of the federal DOMA unconstitutional was determinative:  "Both parties argue that Windsor supports their position, and both are right." 

Judge Kern correctly observed:

The Windsor Court did not apply the familiar equal protection framework, which inquires as to the applicable level of scrutiny and then analyzes the law’s justifications. Instead, the Windsor Court based its conclusion on the law’s blatant improper purpose and animus. See id. at 2693. The Court reasoned that DOMA’s “unusual deviation” from the tradition of “accepting state definitions of marriage” was “strong evidence of a law having the purpose and effect of disapproval of the class.” Id. The Court concluded, based upon DOMA’s text and legislative history, that DOMA’s principal purpose “was to impose inequality.” Id. Thus, Windsor does not answer whether a state may prohibit same-sex marriage in the first instance. Nor does Windsor declare homosexuals a suspect class or discuss whether DOMA impacted a fundamental right, which would have provided this Court with a clear test for reviewing Part A [of the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment].

The judge then applied the Tenth Circuit's framework for analyzing equal protection questions:

First, the Court asks “whether the challenged state action intentionally discriminates between groups of persons.”  Second, after an act of intentional discrimination is identified, the Court must ask “whether the state’s intentional decision to discriminate can be justified by reference to some upright government purpose.”

By examining the legislative actions - - - including a press release - - - the judge found that the exclusion of the defined class was not a "hidden or ulterior motive," but was "consistently communicated to Oklahoma citizens as a justification" for the amendment.  

For the next line of inquiry focusing on the justification for the discrimination, the judge rejected the argument that it was gender discrimination (relying on "common sense"), and concluded it could be best described as "sexual-orientation discrimination."  The judge applied the familiar "rationality" standard, but rejected the "morality" government interest originally proffered, as well as the "negative impact on marriage" interest.  While he did not use the label of "animus" for these interests, the import of the analysis is sympathetic to such a reading.

He similarly rejected the interests of "Encouraging Responsible Procreation/Steering Naturally Procreative Couples to Marriage," and "Promoting the “Optimal” Child-Rearing Environment,"  finding that while these interests might be legitimate, they were not being rationally served by the means chosen of prohibiting same-sex couples from marriage.  

The judge concluded:

The Court permanently enjoins enforcement of Part A against same-sex couples seeking a marriage license. In accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s issuance of a stay in a nearly identical case on appeal from the District Court of Utah to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, see Herbert v. Kitchen, U.S. Supreme Court Order in Pending Case 13A687 (Jan. 6, 2014), the Court stays execution of this injunction pending the final disposition of any appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Thus, same-sex marriages will not occur in Oklahoma as they did in Utah while the state government sought stays.  Instead, the Tenth Circuit's expedited appeal in Herbert v. Kitchen is now also determinative of Oklahoma.

January 14, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 6, 2014

US Supreme Court Stays Utah's Same-Sex Marriage Decision

The Court today issued a stay in Herbert v. Kitchen of Judge Shelby's decision that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstititional.

Here's the entire text:

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.

Note that Justice Sotomayor as the Circuit Justice referred the decision to the full Court, an expected but not necessarily routine process.

The Tenth Circuit itself had denied the properly filed emergency motion for stay, concluding it was not warranted and specifically noting that of the four factors governing a stay pending appeal, two - - - the likelihood of success on appeal and the threat of irreparable harm if the stay is not granted - - - are "most critical, and they require more than a mere possibility of success and irreparable harm, respectively." 

The Tenth Circuit also directed expedited review.

The United States Supreme Court's stay thus halts the entering into of same-sex marriages which have been proceeding since the District Judge's order on December 20, but has no effect on the legality of the same-sex marriages entered into during that period. 

January 6, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Family, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Scholarship Matters: Steve Sanders, The Right to "Stay Married," and Obergefell Opinion

In his opinion granting a final injunction in Obergefell v. Kasich, federal Judge Timothy Black addressed a particular enforcement of Ohio's limitation of marriage to opposite sex couples.   He also cited and relied upon an interesting conceptualization put forth by Steve Sanders in his article, The Constitutional Right to (Keep Your) Same-Sex Marriage, 110 Mich. L. Rev. 1421 (2011), available on ssrn. 

SandersAs the title indicates, Sanders argues that an individual who legally marries in his or her state of domicile, then migrates to another state, has a significant liberty interest under the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause in the ongoing existence of the marriage, as conceptually and doctrinally distinguishable from the constitutional “right to marry.”

Recall that the facts in Obergefell are especially sympathetic: one of the partners was a hospice patient and the relief requested regarded the martial status and surviving spouse to be recorded on the death certificate.  As NPR reported, the couple "chartered a special medical jet to Maryland, where gay marriage is legal, and held a simple ceremony on the runway.   And recall also that Judge Black's preliminary injunction opinion last July was one of the first after the Court decided United States v. Windsor, declaring section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, and used Justice Scalia's dissent as part of the rationale for expanding Windsor.

Although Judge Black's preliminary injunction opinion certainly considered the effect of the out-of-state marriage, in the permanent injunction opinion, Judge Black constitutionalizes this conception:

In situations like those of Plaintiffs, however, where same-sex couples legally marry outside of Ohio and then reside in Ohio, a different right than the fundamental right to marry is also implicated: here, the constitutional due process right at issue is not the right to marry, but, instead, the right not to be deprived of one’s already-existing legal marriage and its attendant benefits and protections.

The footnote to this passage credits Steve Sanders article:

The concept of the right to remain married as a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause is eloquently advanced by Professor Steve Sanders in his article, The Constitutional Right to (Keep Your) Same-Sex Marriage, 110 MICH. L. REV. 1421 (2011). This judge acknowledges significant reliance upon Professor Sanders’s learned (and more extended) analysis of the fundamental right to remain married.

In the text of the opinion, Judge Black then quotes Sanders' article as stating, "In identifying the right to remain married as fundamental, Professor Sanders points out that the “[l]aw favors stability in legal relationships, vindication of justified expectations, and preventing casual evasion of legal duties and responsibilities.”

There is much talk about whether and when legal scholarship matters.  In our new "Scholarship Matters" series, we'll continue to note incidents of scholarly influence on legal doctrine.  

January 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)