All posts from “Courts”

May 31, 2012

DOMA Decision: Unconstitutional And Bound For SCOTUS

Court rules federal law unconstitutionally burdens both states and same-sex couples.

A federal appeals court ruled today that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Massachusetts, said that DOMA imposes a burden on both states and couples without a legitimate federal purpose. The decision is expected to be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.

According to the court decision, DOMA affects more than 1,000 references to marriage in federal laws. As a result, same-sex couples who are married in U.S. states are denied substantial benefits from the federal government. Same-sex couples cannot file joint federal tax returns. Spouses cannot collect Social Security survivor benefits. Federal employees cannot share their health insurance with their spouses.

The First Circuit ruled that the burden placed on the more than 100,000 same-sex couples could not be justified. It rejected the argument that the underlying purpose of DOMA was “hostility toward homosexuality.” Support for traditional marriage, said the Court, did not mean moral disapproval of same-sex couples.

“Traditions are the glue that holds society together, and many of our own traditions rest largely on belief and familiarity--not on benefits firmly provable in court. The desire to retain them is strong and can be honestly held,” the court said.

Morality, too, was not a legitimate reason to define federal marriage as the union between one man and one woman. When passing DOMA, Congress said, “Civil laws that permit only heterosexual marriage reflect and honor a collective moral judgment about human sexuality. This judgment entails both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.”

The First Circuit cited the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. The Lawrence opinion said that morality was an insufficient justification for regulating homosexuality.

The First Circuit said that if the goal of DOMA was to strengthen and protect heterosexual marriage, then DOMA was a “poor remedy” to the problem. It ruled that Congress failed to show “any demonstrated connection between DOMA's treatment of same-sex couples and its asserted goal of strengthening the bonds and benefits to society of heterosexual marriage.”

The decision is limited to the constitutionality of DOMA and avoids broader claims that same-sex couples have a right to marry in any state. Rather, the court said that DOMA violates federalism by interfering in the choices of both same-sex couples and the states that grant them marriages.

The judges acknowledges that the principles in case, including federalism, civil rights, and congressional authority, are difficult to untangle and that “only the Supreme Court can finally decide this unique case.”

“Invalidating a federal statute is an unwelcome responsibility for federal judges; the elected Congress speaks for the entire nation, its judgment and good faith being entitled to utmost respect” the First Circuit wrote. “But a lower federal court such as ours must follow its best understanding of governing precedent, knowing that in large matters the Supreme Court will correct mis-readings (and even if it approves the result will formulate its own explanation).”

DOMA will remain in effect until the Supreme Court decides whether to review the decision.

The opinion was issued by a three-judge panel from the First Circuit. Michael Boudin, nominated by President George H. W. Bush, wrote the unanimous decision; the other two judges were chief judge Sandra L. Lynch (Clinton nominee) and Juan R. Torruella (Reagan nominee).

May 3, 2011

Gay Marriage Opponents Push Appeal of Prop 8 Judge, Iowa Court Impeachment

Activists seeking to overturn court decisions in favor of same-sex marriage are focusing on the judges. In the on-going court process over California's Prop 8, those opposing same-sex marriage filed an appeal last week claiming that federal judge Vaughn Walker should have recused himself because he is in a long-term relationship with a man.

Alliance Defend Fund (ADF) lawyers representing ProtectMarriage.com (Proposition 8's sponsors) said that Walker's sexuality per se was not an issue. “It is important to emphasize at the outset that we are not suggesting that a gay or lesbian judge could not sit on this case,” said the appeal.

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Instead, the ADF and ProtectMarriage.com claimed that Walker would have benefited from the same-sex marriage California because he was in a long-term relationship with a man.

ADF lead attorney in the case, Andy Pugno, said in a statement, “The American people have a right to a fair judicial process, free from even the appearance of bias or prejudice. Judge Walker’s 10-year-long same-sex relationship creates the unavoidable impression that he was not the impartial judge the law requires.”

During the Proposition 8 trial, talk of Walker's sexuality were rumors. Earlier this month, however, Walker told reporters that he did not recuse himself because no one asked him too and because it did not think it was relevant.

“If you thought a judge’s sexuality, ethnicity, national origin (or) gender would prevent the judge from handling a case, that’s a very slippery slope. I don’t think it’s relevant,” Walker said.

In Iowa, freshmen legislators are also attacking the credibility of judges.

Continue reading Gay Marriage Opponents Push Appeal of Prop 8 Judge, Iowa Court Impeachment...

November 1, 2010

Court: 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Remains

A federal appeals court decided today to allow the military to continue to enforce its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Politico reports.

An earlier District Court judge’s ruling found that the ban on openly gay military members was unconstitutional. The panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit voted 2-1 today to extend a stay, lifting the lower judge’s order that kept the military from enforcing the policy.

Josh Gerstein reports that the ruling means the statute will likely to remain in place for months or years for another appeal, unless President Obama convinces Congress to repeal the law. In September, the Republican Party blocked a vote in the Senate to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” blocking a defense authorization bill.


April 15, 2010

Judge Rules National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that the National Day of Prayer, observed the first Thursday of May, is unconstitutional.

In Madison, Wisconsin, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of atheists and agnostics that brought a lawsuit against former President George W. Bush's administration. According to a 2008 Associated Press article, Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force at the time, was named in the lawsuit.

"It is unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honored tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement.

In 1952, President Truman signed into law a Congressional resolution establishing a National Day of Prayer. In 1988, Congress named the first Thursday in May the official date for the National Day of Prayer.

Update: The Justice Department is appealing the decision.

April 21, 2009

Justice Clarence Thomas: 'There are some cases that will drive you to your knees'

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was asked how his religious faith influenced his work on the court during a dinner honoring winners of a high school essay contest.

"I think that it really gives content to the oath that you took," Justice Thomas said. "You say, ?So help me God.' "

"There are some cases that will drive you to your knees," he added. "In those moments you ask for strength and wisdom to have the right answer and the courage to stand up for it. Beyond that, it would be illegitimate, I think, and a violation of my oath to incorporate my religious beliefs into the decision-making process."

(h/t Howard M. Friedman)

April 3, 2009

Iowa Court Approves Gay Marriage, Vermont Passes Same-Sex Bill

The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously decided today that a law declaring marriage to be between a man and a woman is unconstitutional, making its state the first in the Midwest to approve same-sex marriage.

The rest of this article was posted to CT's main site.

February 26, 2009

Court Sides with Montana Church over Free Speech

The free speech rights of a Montana church were violated when it was told to register as a political committee after hosting an anti-gay marriage event in 2004, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals about Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church in East Helena, Mont., overturned a lower court decision.

The church participated in a "Battle for Marriage" satellite simulcast in 2004 and distributed petitions in support of a successful initiative to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman in Montana's constitution.

Continue reading Court Sides with Montana Church over Free Speech...

February 26, 2009

House Members Call for Anti-abortion Steps in Spending Bill

More than 180 House members sent a letter to House Democratic leaders on Wednesday , calling for upcoming spending bills to maintain longstanding anti-abortion provisions.

"These measures ... reflect the moral concerns of many Americans who do not wish to see their tax dollars used for any organization that provides abortion services," said the letter.

The letter asks House Democratic leaders to maintain provisions such as the Hyde Amendment, in effect since 1976, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions except in limited cases.

Continue reading House Members Call for Anti-abortion Steps in Spending Bill...

December 12, 2008

Supreme Court declines to hear 'candy cane' speech case

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal in a case involving a Michigan fifth-grader who tried to sell candy canes with a religious message at his school.

The high court on Monday denied the petition that the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund filed on behalf of Joel Curry.

Curry was 11 in 2003 when he made candy cane-style Christmas ornaments with notes that school officials considered "religious literature." The notes attached to the ornaments, titled "The Meaning of the Candy Cane," referred to Jesus six times and God twice.

Curry copied the message from an ornament at a Christian bookstore. He made the ornaments as part of a class project in which students developed and sold products. He faced no discipline, though school officials told him to remove the message, and received an `A' on the assignment.

Now a 15-year-old high school sophomore, Curry said he was disappointed in the high court's ruling, but the incident happened "a long time ago" and he doesn't "think about it much" anymore.

"They should have heard it because it's an important issue involving the Constitution and people's First Amendment right to freedom of speech," he said.

The Alliance Defense Fund had asked the high court to "consider whether a fifth-grade student's religious expression on a classroom project may be categorically identified as `offensive' and therefore legitimately censored by state school officials."

ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Saginaw School District and Curry's principal in 2004, claiming that the principal violated the Constitution's equal protection clause because, in the past, she allowed other students to sell religious-themed items.

In September 2006, a federal judge ruled that the principal violated Curry's First Amendment rights. A three-judge panel for the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed that decision.