Ari Ezra Waldman Hub

Don't Worry That We Didn't Hear from the Supreme Court Today



As you know, the justices of the Supreme Court met in private today to discuss, among many other things, whether to take any of the marriage equality cases out of the Sixth Circuit.

If you recall, the Sixth Circuit upheld bans on the freedom to marry, making it the only federal appellate court in the post-Windsor world to do so. The plaintiffs in the various cases on appeal -- from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee -- appealed and asked the Supreme Court to take their cases and reverse the appellate court.

The justice considered those petitions in conference today.

But we didn't get an order granting or denying review. That's ok.

Why you shouldn't worry, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Robbie Kaplan Argues for the Freedom to Marry at 5th Circuit Today: What To Watch For


KaplanRoberta Kaplan, the Paul Weiss attorney who was Edie Windsor's attorney, is in New Orleans to argue for marriage equality at the Fifth Circuit. The cases on appeal come from Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, the last of which, by the way, has a case under simultaneous consideration for Supreme Court review. In Texas and Mississippi, federal judges struck down marriage discrimination laws as unconstitutional; in Louisiana, a startlingly wrongheaded and overtly antigay opinion upheld that state's ban. The Fifth Circuit is the next stop.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers just the three states involved in these marriage equality cases, is a conservative court: it has more judges appointed by Republican presidents than Democrats. But, as we know, that does not always signal an anti-gay opinion. Judge Posner, who wrote a breathtaking pro-equality decision at the Seventh Circuit, was appointed by President Reagan.

President Reagan also appointed two of the judges on the Fifth Circuit panel: Patrick Higginbotham and Jerry Smith. The third judge, James Graves, is an Obama appointee. I must admit that I don't know much about his background. Judge Graves was the only African-American judge to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court during his tenure and he spent most of career in public service in Mississippi. A short review of some of his decisions in Mississippi reveal few controversial views. His opinions are well-reasoned.

Judge Smith has been a reliable conservative -- read: right wing conservative -- for much of his time on the federal bench. Judge Higginbotham, however, is a bit of a wild card. In fact, he reminds me, in certain ways, of Judge Posner.

Both are well-respect in the judiciary and among court watchers and lawyers. I never argued in front of him, but several colleagues did and they spoke of him as fair and not always an automatic supporter of our corporate clients. Judge Higginbotham's name was floated as a possible alternative that Senate Democrats would be willing to confirm if President Reagan withdrew Judge Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court (the seat would ultimately go to Justice Kennedy). More recently, he upheld the University of Texas's affirmative action plan. His opinions may not offer the same doctrinal coherence as Judge Posner's: Judge Posner is a brilliant economic mind whose decisions focus on efficiency, practicality, and individual freedom. But he is not beholden to one political party.

Also, they have both said similar things about the conservative tilt of the judiciary. Posner is famously frustrated with Republicans in politics and Republican judges on the bench, many of whom he says are too radical on the right. Judge Higginbotham also gave an interview suggesting that the court has moved away from him since he arrived: he was once considered a conservative; now, compared to others, he isn't.

Judge Higginbotham is the swing vote. He is a moderate and his opinions appear reasonable. I would watch his questions.

Stay tuned to Towleroad for more analysis. Good luck, Robbie!


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Ari Ezra Waldman is a professor of law and the Director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. Ari writes weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues.

SCOTUS to Consider 6th Circuit Marriage Equality Cases: What To Watch For



Today, the Supreme Court is meeting in private to decide what cases on its docket it will hear.

Among the many cases on the docket are a handful of marriage equality cases out of Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Louisiana. The first four of those states are under the jurisdiction of the Sixth Circuit, which, in November, became the first federal appellate court in the post-Windsor era to uphold the constitutionality of state bans on the freedom to marry. As I have argued, that opinion was not just wrong on the law, it was an abdication of the judicial role. The case out of Louisiana is there because a district court judge upheld that state's ban in a decision that doesn't even pass the laugh test. Both parties to the case decided to skip over an appellate court decision and go right to the Supreme Court.

The requests before it are called "petitions for a writ of certiorari," or, literally, a request for an order from a higher court (SCOTUS) to review a lower court (intermediate appellate court) decision. The petitions look like, sound like, and are sometimes as long as regular substantive briefs, and they make many of the substantive arguments the parties will make at trial. A minimum of 4 justices are required to grant a writ. Granting the writ does not say anything about how the Court will decide: a justice can vote to hear a case because he or she agrees or disagrees with the decision below. Also, bear in mind that there are many cases on the Court's docket; the justices do not always get to all of them. If we don't hear immediately about an order granting a hearing, do not fret. It may mean that there were too many cases to consider in one meeting.

Notably, the Court rarely takes cases. In 2012, there were 8,806 cases on its docket. It granted review in 93 of them. That comes out to almost exactly 1% of cases.

Many considerations go into a decision to hear a case. Circuit splits and confusion in the law weigh heavily on the Court, but any law professor and practitioner will tell you that the Supreme Court does not always do a good job clarifying the law. The Court's recent decision in ABC v. Aereo, which concerned the online streaming television company, is a good example of a decision that did not really clarify much of anything. Some scholars think Windsor falls into that category.

In any event, the Supreme Court takes cases when it wants to and it rarely, if ever, explains its reasoning for a grant or a denial. Court watchers and insiders have written books about the process. But none of them are in the room; only the justices are there. The bottom line is the Supreme Court has almost limitless leeway in determining its docket.


Continue reading "SCOTUS to Consider 6th Circuit Marriage Equality Cases: What To Watch For" »

SCOTUS Likely to Decide to Take Marriage Equality Case Tomorrow


As Towleroad has reported, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will meet in private tomorrow - January 9 - to consider, among other things, whether to grant a hearing in the marriage equality cases out of the Sixth Circuit and Louisiana. If you recall, the Sixth Circuit decided in November to uphold bans on the freedom to marry in an opinion that is word-for-word out of the conservative movement's playbook.

Although we cannot be sure that the Court will decide to take the case at this particular meeting -- there are many cases on the docket and there is a limit to how long the justices will sit there -- there is a strong likelihood that the Court will ultimately hear the case and decide, finally, that bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional.

There are several factors suggesting the Court will take the Sixth Circuit cases:


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Why Marriage Equality in Florida Is a Sign of Good Things to Come


When last we spoke, the freedom to marry had just been handed a setback: the Sixth Circuit let stand marriage discrimination laws in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. Over the holiday season, though, we took many steps forward in defiance of that egregious and wrongheaded appellate court opinion: Marriage equality officially came to Montana and South Carolina. And although she tried every trick in her book, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi could not stop the arc of justice from sweeping ashore in the Sunshine State.

The arrival of marriage freedom in Florida is particularly notable because of how it happened.

BondiIn Florida, a federal district court judge ruled in August that the state's marriage ban was unconstitutional; the judge stayed his decision until January 5, 2015. The Republicans running the state wanted to delay as much as possible as they appealed the judge's ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. But neither the district court nor the circuit court would grant the state a stay beyond January 5. So, Attorney General Bondi asked the Supreme Court. The Court said no, with only Justice Scalia and Thomas willing to issue the stay.

Note the difference between South Carolina and Montana, on the one hand, and Florida on the other. South Carolina is under the jurisdiction of the Fourth Circuit, which declared Virginia's marriage ban unconstitutional some time ago. Montana is in the Ninth Circuit, which made a similar decision in Idaho's case in October. Because marriage equality was just steps away from all the other states in those jurisdictions as a result of the appellate court decisions, the Supreme Court declined to issue a stay in the South Carolina case.

Florida is in the Eleventh Circuit, which has not had occasion to rule on a gay marriage case. So the Supreme Court's refusal to grant a stay and to allow marriages to start in Florida was a stronger pro-equality signal than denying a stay in South Carolina.


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Sixth Circuit Lets Gay Marriage Bans Stand in OH, MI, TN, and KY: Legal Analysis, Part 1



Reading the Sixth Circuit's opinion permitting states to ban same-sex marriage is a cognitively dissonant experience: the opinion isn't really about gays, marriage, or gay marriage. It is, as the dissent notes, an "engrossing TED talk" on political philosophy or democracy. It is, in other words, a magician's misdirection.

The Sixth Circuit's conservatives do not want us to realize that what they just did is tear away equal and fundamental rights from real committed, loving couples, many of whom are raising children. Rather, they want us to think that they were hamstrung by their humble roles and the narrow confines of their judicial charges. Well, they can't fool us and they won't fool Justice Kennedy.

In a meandering opinion riddled with rhetorical questions rather than reasoned legal analysis, Judge Sutton (above, middle) argues, essentially, that he cannot affirm the unconstitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage because he is handcuffed by three things: Baker v. Nelson, the limited role of the judiciary and the Constitution, and eons and eons of social tradition. His language suggests, not too convincingly, that he would jump at the chance to allow gays to marry if he were a voter or a legislator. But as a judge, sitting in an intermediate appellate court inferior to the Supreme Court, he can't. He just can't.

Don't let Judge Sutton's rhetoric fool you. Behind the gloss of reasonable-sounding respect for the dignity of gay persons lies the same odious discrimination we have been hearing from the rump of the radical right still apoplectic that two men or two women can marry.

GinsburgThe upshot of this opinion is that it is Justice Ginsburg's trigger for when she thought the Supreme Court might take up a marriage equality case: the Sixth Circuit has just upheld bans on same-sex marriage. Now we are on a track to return to the Supreme Court where we may get a substantive holding on marriage equality. Expect an appeal request to be filed quickly, and expect the Supreme Court to take the case. We may even get a decision in June, on the anniversary of Windsor.

This is the first in a series of columns on the Sixth Circuit's decision; there are just too many pieces to this opinion to cover at once. Stay tuned to Towleroad over the next few days for special in-depth coverage and analysis.

Let's begin with a general summary of Judge Sutton's primary motivating point, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Sixth Circuit Lets Gay Marriage Bans Stand in OH, MI, TN, and KY: Legal Analysis, Part 1" »


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