Daily Archives: June 26, 2013

Prop. 8: official proponents of Prop 8 could not appeal

The Supreme Court decided Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144 (2013), holding that petitioners did not have standing to appeal Proposition 8.

As background, California granted same-sex marriages.  However, this was later reversed through Proposition 8.  Under Proposition 8, California Constitution was changed to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  The California Supreme Court held that Proposition 8 left the rights of same-sex couples largely undisturbed, reserving only the official designation of the term marriage for the union of opposite-sex couples.

The parties in this lawsuit help explain the Supreme Court’s decision.  Respondents (Plaintiffs), two same-sex couples who wished to marry, filed a lawsuit in federal court. Defendants (including the Governor, Attorney General, and other officials) did not decent the law.  Nevertheless, Defendants continued to enforce the law.

Petitioners, who appealed, were official proponents of Proposition 8.  Petitioners, instead of Defendants, defended Proposition 8.  The District Court then held that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.    Petitioners (not Defendants) appealed.

Now the question is: do these Petitioners have standing in order to be involved in this case?  The California Supreme Court held that Petitioners were authorized to appear and assert the state’s interest in the validity of Proposition 8.  The Ninth Circuit then affirmed the District Court’s decision, ruling that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruled that Petitioners did not have standing.  First of all, when Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional two things happened: Respondents (Plaintiffs) no longer had an injury to redress because they won; and Defendants chose not to appeal.

Petitioners did not have a personal and individual injury.  There was no “direct stake” in the outcome of the appeal.  In other words, they were pushing a generalized grievance.  Consequently, Petitioners could not appeal.

The Supreme Court explained,

No matter how deeply committed petitioners may be to upholding Proposition 8 or how “zealous [their] advocacy,” that is not a “particularized” interest sufficient to create a case or controversy under Article III.

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DOMA is unconstitutional

The Supreme Court opinion on United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307 (2013) held that DOMA was unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment when it failed to recognize same-sex marriage federally.

It is important to note that the reasoning behind this ruling was based on the fact that there are States which granted same-sex marriage but were not recognized federally.  By failing to recognize those same-sex marriages, the government was discriminating against same-sex married couples.  In doing so, same-sex married couples were deprived of the benefits and responsibilities of over 1,000 federal laws.  Including protections under criminal law and provide financial harm to children of same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court noted that the State’s authority to regulate marriages was being squashed by the federal government.  Based on precedent, “[e]ach state as a sovereign has a rightful and legitimate concern in the marital status of persons domiciled within its borders.”  “The definition of marriage is the foundation of the State’s broader authority to regulate the subject of domestic relations with respect to the ‘[p]rotection of offspring, property interests, and the enforcement of marital responsibilities.'” (italics added).

Instead of respecting the State’s authority to regulate marriages, DOMA’s purpose was to “impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a sigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”

Given that DOMA’s purpose was to impose restrictions and disabilities, the Supreme Court stated that “[b]y doing so [DOMA] violates basic due process and equal protection principles.”

The Supreme Court found that

DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.  The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency….

DOMA contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities.  By creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State, DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect.

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The Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court ruled on Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 NAMUDNO v. Holder, No. 08-322 (2013), answering the question of the whether a district (not the state) could seek the bailout provision under the Voting Rights Act.

The decision of the Supreme Court is important here because it did not rule on the issue of whether the Voting Rights Act was constitutional.

Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that the district could use the “bailout” provision under the Voting Rights Act, even if the state could not.  In holding this, the Supreme Court explained that the district fell under the definition of a “State of political subdivision,” and thereby could use the “bailout” provision.

Generally, the Voting Rights Act requires certain states to get pre-clearance before making any changes to elections.  One of these states includes Texas.  However, there is a provision (“bailout”) that states that the state can seek a declaratory judgment from a three-judge panel District Court in Washington, D.C.  42 USC 1973(b)(a)(1), 1973c(a).  The bailout provision requires:

  • The state has not used any forbidden voting test for the last 10 years;
  • The state has not been subject to a valid objection under the Voting Rights Act section 5;
  • The state has not been found liable for other rights act violations; and
  • The state has engaged in constructive efforts to eliminate intimidation and harassment of voters.

The Voting Rights Act only authorizes a bailout suit by a State or political subdivision.  42 USC 19873b(a)(1)(A).

Here, the government argued that under the statutory definition of the bailout provision, a district could not seek a bailout provision.  The Act provided that a “‘political subdivision’ shall mean any county or parish, except that where registration for voting is not conducted under the supervision of a county or parish, the term shall include any other subdivision of a State which conducts registration for voting.” Section 14(c)(2).  The government argued that because the district was not a county or parish and did not conduct its own voter registration, the district was not covered under the Act.

However, the Supreme Court disagreed.  Citing previous Supreme Court cases, the Supreme Court stated the definition of a “political subdivision” must be broad and not limited to the statutory definition.  The Supreme Court explained,

Our decisions have already established that the statutory definition in [section] 14(c)(2) does not apply to every use of the term “political subdivision” in the Act.  We have, for example, concluded that the definition does not apply to the pre clearance obligation of [section] 5.

There, we expressly rejected the suggestion that the city of Sheffield was beyond the ambit of [section] 5 because it did not itself register voters and hence was not a political subdivision as the term is defined in [section] 14(c)(2) of the Act… [O]nce a State has been designed for coverage, [section] 14(c)(2)’s definition of political subdivision has no operative significance in determining the reach of [section] 5.

(markings in original).  Taking a broad approach, the Supreme Court ruled that a district was a political subdivision.

In addition, the Supreme Court noted that the 1982 amendments provided that even if the state could not bailout, a political subdivision might be able to assuming it met the bailout requirements.

via We gave you a chance: Today’s Shelby County decision in Plain English : SCOTUSblog.

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