Attorneys on either side of a lawsuit over Wisconsin and Indiana's overthrown gay marriage bans are wrangling over how many federal judges should hear the states' appeal, a technical issue that could make a big difference.
Those representing gay couples who want the bans overturned permanently in both Indiana and Wisconsin filed briefs on Monday arguing that a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is enough. They say three-judge panels in other districts have heard similar cases and at least one has rejected a similar motion for a full-court hearing.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller requested June 11 that the full, 10-member court hear the case, which lawyers call en banc review. Wisconsin made a similar move last week after the same federal appeals court had consolidated Indiana and Wisconsin's cases.
"En banc review would serve to provide the insights and judgment of 10 well-respected judges, rather than just three, which would benefit the judicial review process no matter the outcome," Indiana attorney general's office spokesman Bryan Corbin said in a statement Tuesday.
But according to a legal expert, a full-court review amounts to playing the odds.
"Your panel of three may or may not be representative of the whole court. There are going to be times when that happens," David Orentlicher, a professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, said Tuesday.
Both states agree that the case should move rapidly through the legal process.
Hundreds of couples were married in Indiana from June 25, when U.S. District Judge Richard Young struck down the state's gay marriage ban, to June 27, when the 7th Circuit put the decision on hold. The sole exception to the appeals court stay in Indiana was an order for the state to recognize the out-of-state marriage of Amy Sandler and Nikole Quasney of Munster; Quasney is dying of ovarian cancer.
In Wisconsin, more than 500 couples got married after U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled June 6 that the ban was a violation of gay couples' equal protection and due process rights. Crabb put her ruling on hold a week later and there have been no marriages since.
Marriages in both states conducted in between when the bans were struck down and put on hold remain in legal limbo.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the bans in both states, argues that the marriages are legal.
ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on July 11 asking him to issue a statement that the federal government will recognize the marriages as he did in Utah and Michigan, which would make Indiana's couples eligible for federal benefits for married couples.
Democratic members of Congress from Wisconsin made a similar request.
Same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.