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US Supreme Court strikes down DOMA as unconstitutional

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On its last day of the 2012 term, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its highly anticipated decisions involving same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples in states that recognize same-sex marriage received a victory from the court when the majority struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.

The 5-4 decision 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 ruling in United States v. Windsor, executor of the Estate of Spyer, et al., 12-307, will entitle those couples to equal treatment under federal law with regard to income taxes and Social Security benefits.

The decision involves 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. Windsor 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 intervened. The lower courts held the section is unconstitutional and that Windsor is entitled to a refund.

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

Scalia wrote in a dissent that Wednesday’s decision has cheated both sides, “robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better.”

In his dissent, Alito wrote, “To the extent that the Court takes the position that the question of same-sex marriage should be resolved primarily at the state level, I wholeheartedly agree. I hope that the Court will ultimately permit the people of each State to decide this question for themselves. Unless the Court is willing to allow this to occur, the whiffs of federalism in the today’s opinion of the Court will soon be scattered to the wind.”

The Supreme Court decided in Hollingsworth, et al. v. Perry, et al, 12-144, 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.

“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 for the majority.

Associate Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito and Sonia 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.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller released a statement shortly after the decisions came down, saying, “While my office is duty bound to defend the authority of our state legislature and their decisions, I recognize that people have strongly held and vastly different views on the issue of marriage and ask that everyone show respect with civility to our Supreme Court and our constitutional system.  Regardless of the different views people may hold, marriage should be a source of unity and not division.”

Indiana Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he’s confident the matter of same-sex marriage will come before the General Assembly and be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.

“I am disappointed the federal Defense of Marriage Act has been overturned. I am certainly pleased the Supreme Court has confirmed each state’s right to address the legal issue of what constitutes one of the most important institutions in our society,” he said. “As they have in 30 other states, Hoosiers should have the right to speak on this issue.”

Indiana Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said it’s important that Indiana is a state that is welcoming to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“Study after study shows growing support for marriage equality for all Hoosiers. We must ensure that our policies reflect this evolving sentiment,” he said. “It is my hope that lawmakers can put this divisive debate behind them, and focus on the priorities that matter to every Hoosier family - a strong economy, good schools, and thriving local communities.”

The justices also released Sekhar v. United States, 12-357. The court unanimously held that attempting to compel a person to recommend that his employer approve an investment does not constitute “the obtaining of property from another” under the Hobbs Act.

The Supreme Court reversed Sekhar’s conviction of attempted extortion under the Act, which is defined as “obtaining the property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.” The state comptroller of New York’s general counsel received anonymous emails demanding that he recommend investing in a fund managed by FA Technology Ventures. Some of those emails were traced to the home computer of Sekhar, a managing partner of the firm.

The jury specified that the property Sekhar attempted to extort was the general counsel’s recommendation to approve the investment. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

“The Government’s defense of the theory of conviction is unpersuasive. No fluent speaker of English would say that ‘petitioner obtained and exercised the general counsel’s right to make a recommendation,’ any more than he would say that a person ‘obtained and exercised another’s right to free speech,’” states the opinion, delivered by Scalia.

 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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