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US Supreme Court: DOMA unconstitutional; finds lack of standing to appeal in Perry

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The Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act Wednesday in a 5-4 decision that is confined to only those in lawful marriages. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the majority decision, writing the Act is a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.

“The class to which DOMA directs its restrictions and restraints are those persons who are joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State. DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty,” Kennedy wrote. “It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The majority pointed out the decision and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages. The ruling will allow those couples equal treatment under federal law with regard to income taxes and Social Security benefits.

The decision in United States v. Windsor, executor of the Estate of Spyer, et al., 12-307, deals with New York resident Edith Windsor – who was in a legally recognized same-sex marriage with Thea Spyer – seeking to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses after Spyer died in 2009. She was barred from doing so by Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which excludes same-sex partners as spouses. Windsor ended up paying more than $360,000 in estate taxes and sought a refund.

The Department of Justice decided not to defend Section 3’s constitutionality, and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives decided to intervene. The lower courts held the section is unconstitutional and that Windsor is entitled to a refund.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissented.

In Hollingsworth, et al. v. Perry, et al, 12-144, the court ruled 5-4 that the petitioners – proponents of Proposition 8 in California which defines marriage as between a man and woman – did not have standing to appeal the District Court’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the petitioners did have standing and affirmed the District Court’s order on the merits.

Because the Supreme Court found the petitioners do not have standing under Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, it has no authority to decide the case on the merits and neither did the 9th Circuit. Roberts delivered the opinion of the court. Once Prop 8 was approved by the voters, the measure became an enacted constitutional amendment or statute in California, and the petitioners have no role in the enforcement of it and therefore have no personal stake in defending its enforcement that is distinguishable from the general interest of every California resident.

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here,” Roberts wrote.

Associate Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito and Sotomayor dissented.

Indiana had authored an amicus brief in Windsor, which was joined by 16 states; Indiana co-authored with Virginia an amicus brief in Hollingsworth.
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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