Breaking: SCOTUS To Review DOMA and Prop 8 Cases

Ken AshfordGay Marriage, Supreme CourtLeave a Comment

The Supreme Court granted cert in the so-called "Prop 8" case from California.  They also decided to hear the appeal of a case testing the constitutionality of DOMA – the Defense of Marriage Act.  Section III of DOMA prevents the federal government from treating as married for the purpose of federal law same-sex couples who are legally married under state law. For example, someone who is legally married to a person of the same sex cannot currently receive spousal Social Security benefits should his or her spouse die. Couples subject to such discrimination currently reside in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, Washington DC, New York and California, and soon in Washington State, Maryland and Maine.

The DOMA case essentially means that the Court will decide if the federal government must respect the same-sex marriage laws of states that permit same-sex marriage.

But the Prop 8 case means that the Court will also consider whether states can have same-sex marriage at all.

The Court, one might say in summary, has agreed to take up virtually all of the key issues about same-sex marriage, but has given itself a way to avoid final decisions on the merits issues.

These two cases will be heard in late March, probably back to back — with a decision coming out probably on June 27 (mark your calendars).

Taken together, I suspect there are five possible outcomes:

(1)  SCOTUS will kick the can down the road.  It is possible, though I suspect unlikely, that both cases will be disposed of on issues other than the merits.  For example, there is a standing issue in the Prop 8 case ("standing" means whether or not the plaintiffs had the right to bring the lawsuit in the first place).  Conceivably, the court could rule on that, and never reach the merits.  The DOMA case has a standing issue as well.

(2)  SCOTUS would allow each state to decide whether or not to allow same-sex marriages, and force the federal government to accept it only where states accept it.  

(3)  SCOTUS would allow each state to decide whether or not to allow same-sex marriages, but the federal government does not have to accept it.  Basically, a ruling like this would say that same-sex marriages are not protected by the U.S. Constitution, and the federal government can discriminate.  This is essentially what we have now.

(4)  SCOTUS finds that same-sex marriages are protected by the U.S. Constitution, and therefore ALL states must recognize same-sex marriages.  The best of all outcomes.

(5) SCOTUS finds that the U.S. Constitution (14th Amendment) bars states from allowing same-sex marriage.  The worst of all outcomes.

A #4 outcome is easy to predict.  We know that the four liberal justices will be in favor of it.  Kennedy, the "swing" vote on the Court, is likely to be in favor of it as well, given his opinion in Lawrence v. Texas.  But it is not a sure thing.  The conservative "five" are wary of federalism, where the federal government imposes things on states.

I see #5 as unlikely.  That would be "activist", considering that seven states now allow same-sex marriage.

In any event, it will be an interesting spring.  A media circus.  

Prediction: I give Fox News about two days before they call upon Justice Elena Kagan to recuse herself because she plays softball and …. you know.

To be continued, no doubt.