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Which Marriage Equality Case Will the Supreme Court Take, If Any?

BY LISA KEEN

SupremesThe U.S. Supreme Court could announce as early as Tuesday (September 30) which marriage equality case –or cases— it will accept for review this session. But, while the Court has seven marriage equality cases to choose from during its private working conference Monday (September 29), it may not choose any of those seven for review.

“If there’s no disagreement [among the circuits], then the Supreme Court has the option of not taking any case for a period of time,” said Roberta Kaplan, who represented plaintiff Edith Windsor in landmark Supreme Court case that struck down the key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made just that point in remarks September 16 at a University of Minnesota Law School forum. Her host asked Ginsburg to comment generally on marriage equality cases before the high court and discuss whether she thinks the court will and should take a case “as soon as possible.”

Ginsburg“So far, the federal courts of appeal have answered the question the same way – holding unconstitutional the ban on same-sex marriage,” said Ginsburg. “There is a case now pending before the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Now, if that court should disagree with the others, then there will be some urgency in the courts for taking the case. But when all the courts of appeal are in agreement, there’s no need for us to rush to step in. It remains to be seen what the Sixth Circuit would rule, when it will rule. Sooner or later, yes, the question will come to the court....”

Her comments attracted attention from Supreme Court observers because the court had been rather quick to put the seven cases on its list for discussion at its first big “long” conference. But Ginsburg was basically voicing what many such observers already know: The Supreme Court is more keen on taking appeals when there’s a disagreement among the circuits.

So far, four appeals courts have ruled such marriage bans unconstitutional: the Ninth (in last year’s Proposition 8 case), the Tenth (Utah and Oklahoma), the Fourth (Virginia), and the Seventh (Wisconsin and Indiana). Another Ninth Circuit panel heard oral arguments September 8, in cases challenging bans in Hawaii, Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon, but it widely expected to find once again that the bans are unconstitutional.

But a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard arguments August 6 in cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, and it seemed to signal it was prepared to uphold state bans on marriage for same-sex couples. That would create a conflict, but the panel has not yet released its opinion. If there was anything unusual about Ginsburg’s comments last week, it was that she expressed, very diplomatically, the widespread impression that the Sixth Circuit is likely to uphold the bans.

KaplanKaplan (right) thinks Ginsburg’s remarks are a strong indication that the Court is more likely to accept a case from a circuit that disagrees with the others – either the Sixth or the Fifth circuit. The Sixth Circuit decision could be released any day now; the Fifth, which covers Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, recently gave the state of Texas an extension of time (until October 10) to file its final brief in Perry v. DeLeon.

If the Supreme Court declines to review one of the pending marriage cases this session, said Kaplan, it would have to lift the stays currently in place. “Then marriages between gay couples could happen in a whole bunch of new states,” she said. That would enable same-sex couples to get married in 12 additional states: Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma in the Tenth Circuit; Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia in the Fourth Circuit; and Wisconsin and Indiana, in the Seventh Circuit. Added to the 19 states that already enable same-sex couples to marry, and the count will stand at 31 and the District of Columbia.

That seems unlikely.

So, if and when it takes a case, does it matter which marriage equality case the Supreme Court accepts? Does it change the prospects for the decision if it takes a case where the ban has been upheld? Does it matter whether the attorneys arguing the case are seasoned veterans before the Supreme Court?

TribeConstitutional law legend Laurence Tribe (right), the Harvard law professor who argued against state bans on same-sex sexual activity in the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick case, says, “It could matter in a large number of ways” but he was “disinclined to speculate about (it) at this point.”

Lambda senior attorney Jenny Pizer offered some ideas. Though she and others agree the “core arguments will be very similar regardless of which case or cases the Supreme Court takes,” Pizer noted that there can be interesting and important ancillary arguments.

“For example, if the Ninth Circuit rules as many anticipate and invalidates the marriage bans ...the Supreme Court would have the heightened scrutiny for sexual orientation classifications question presented more squarely because that is currently the law of the circuit,” said Pizer. “If they take the Baskin [case] out of [Indiana in] the Seventh, there are issues of emergency relief in the context of serious illness that might influence the Court's analysis and timing. If they take Bostic out of Virginia, there could be a strong temptation to talk more about the historical parallel [with the ban on interracial marriage, in Loving v. Virginia]. And I have to wonder if the same would be true if they were to take [the] Kitchen [case] out of Utah, given the unique history of that state's marriage laws [and polygamy].”

MinterShannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, noted that state officials are “vigorously” defending the ban in the Utah case, in which NCLR and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders are helping represent plaintiff couples. The Supreme Court might favor such a case to avoid any procedural snag like it faced in the California Proposition 8 case, which was appealed by a third party which lacked legal standing to file the appeal.

Lambda Legal’s national Legal Director Jon Davidson said attorneys for all the cases think their case is a particularly good vehicle for review, but said, “The questions presented for review are essentially the same in all these cases.”

As for whether it matters if seasoned Supreme Court attorneys present the arguments for plaintiff couples, Tribe and others said it probably doesn’t matter.

“As long as they’re sufficiently ‘seasoned’ not to make any ridiculous concessions or to overreach in any foolish ways,” said Tribe, “this is not the kind of case in which counsel’s arguments are likely to make much difference.”

“There are slight issues in terms of whether a state’s attorney general is defending the law, but other than that,” said Kaplan, “the legal arguments and the plaintiff facts are virtually identical” in all seven cases.

Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group and a participant in the early marriage cases, agreed.

“All of the cases that have reached the Court present compelling stories from the plaintiffs, and all are in good hands with strong lawyer teams. Each lawyer, of course, would like to be the one who gets to stand before the Court, but the reality is that, whichever case the Court chooses and whichever lawyers are the lead, it is the strong collective presentation we will make together -- on top of the friend-of-court briefs, the rulings from the more than 30 wins below, and the records and arguments the justices have already considered last year -- that will matter.”

© 2014 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.


Four Couples File Suit Challenging Tennessee's Gay Marriage Ban

Four gay couples filed suit in Tennessee today challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage, according to a press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights:

TennesseeThe couples, who include a full-time Army reservist and his husband and two professors of veterinary medicine, all formerly lived and married in other states and later moved to Tennessee to pursue careers and make new homes for their families. Tennessee law currently prohibits recognition of their marriages and treats the couples as legal strangers.

The lawsuit argues that Tennessee’s laws prohibiting recognition of the couples’ marriages violates the federal Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process and the constitutionally protected right to travel between and move to other states.

The couples are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty of Knoxville; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura of Memphis; Kellie Miller and Vanessa DeVillez of Greenbrier; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo of Franklin. The couples are represented by Nashville attorneys Abby R. Rubenfeld, William Harbison, Scott Hickman, Phil Cramer and John Farringer of the law firm of Sherrard & Roe, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and attorneys Maureen T. Holland of Memphis and Regina Lambert of Knoxville.

Minter“Getting married not only enabled us to express our love and commitment to one another, but it also provided us with the protections we would need as we started our new lives together,” said Dr. Jesty, who moved to Tennessee with her wife in 2011 to accept a teaching position at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville, where her spouse also teaches. “When we moved to Tennessee, we lost those protections. Now that Val is pregnant with our first child, having those protections is more important than ever.”

Sergeant DeKoe, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, said: “Fairness and equality are the guiding principles of our government, and as a member of the armed forces, I have fought and will continue to fight for those principles. After returning to Memphis with Thom, I was saddened to learn that Tennessee law does not live up to those ideals in the way it treats married same-sex couples.”

Said NCLR legal director Shannon Minter (pictured): “Married couples should be able to travel and to live in any state knowing that their family is protected. Tennessee’s current law hurts same-sex couples and their children without helping anyone.”

Read the complaint HERE.


Federal Judge Blocks California Ban on 'Ex-Gay' Therapy for Minors

A federal judge has placed a block on California's recently passed SB 1172, which bans harmful "ex-gay" therapy for minors but has limited his order to three people — "psychiatrist Anthony Duk, marriage and family therapist Donald Welch, and Aaron Bitzer, a former patient who is studying to become a counselor who specializes in clients who are unhappy being gay" — until a trial can be held on the merits of their challenge.

ShubbThe AP reports:

U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb (right) made a decision just hours after a hearing on the issue, ruling that the First Amendment rights of psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals who engage in "reparative" or "conversion" therapy outweigh concern that the practice poses a danger to young people.

"Even if SB 1172 is characterized as primarily aimed at regulating conduct, it also extends to forms of (conversion therapy) that utilize speech and, at a minimum, regulates conduct that has an incidental effect on speech," Shubb wrote.

The judge also disputed the California Legislature's finding that trying to change young people's sexual orientation puts them at risk for suicide or depression, saying it was based on "questionable and scientifically incomplete studies."

MinterNCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq. released a statement in response to Shubb's ruling:

“We are disappointed by the ruling but very pleased that the temporary delay in implementing this important law applies only to the three plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit. The judge stressed that he was willing to issue the ruling in part because it is temporary and applies only to three individuals. We are confident that as the case progresses, it will be clear to the court that this law is fundamentally no different than many other laws that regulate health care professionals to protect patients. That is especially important in this case because the harms to minors are so serious, including suicide and severe depression. Every leading medical and mental health organization in the country has rejected these practices and warned that they are not only completely ineffective, but dangerous. California did the right thing by enacting this law, and we are confident the courts will find that it is not only constitutional, but vitally necessary. It is heartbreaking to think of the terrible damage that has been done to so many LGBT youth and their families, and of the lives that have been lost or destroyed because of these discredited practices.

We applaud Senator Ted Liu, the bill’s author, lead sponsor Equality California, the California Legislature, and Governor Brown for protecting these young people and their families. Governor Brown’s statement when he signed this bill is right on target: ‘This bill bans non-scientific 'therapies' that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.’”

The law, which was passed on September 29, goes into effect on January 1, 2013.


California Supreme Court Proposition 8 Hearings - WATCH

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Arguments Challenging Proposition 8 to Be Heard Thursday

Prop8

On March 4, 2008, the Supreme Court heard arguments that ultimately lead them to the rule the state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional a little more than two months later. On March 5, this Thursday, they'll again hear arguments on that topic, this time on whether Proposition 8, the voter-imposed ban on same-sex marriage, is constitutional.

Supremes The Mercury News: "The question is whether a majority of the justices will defer to popular will or, having already declared that preventing gay people from marrying was unconstitutional, will do so again. Legal experts say it is a tough call and that the court's decision, due within 90 days, will be debated for years to come...Legal experts say Proposition 8, which won 52 percent of the vote, would almost certainly stand if not for one notable fact: the marriage amendment represents the first time in California history that the constitution was changed at the ballot box to deprive a protected minority group of a right expressly carved out by the court."

Minter_starr Over the weekend, the Sacramento Bee previewed this week's face-off with a look at the attorneys on each side, Kenneth Starr and Shannon Minter — the former an erstwhile federal judge, U.S. solicitor and the lead prosecutor in the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky hearings, and the latter a transgender man who successfully argued the same-sex marriage case before the court a year ago.

The Bee reports: "Minter calls Thursday's proceedings 'much bigger' than the case last May that invalidated Proposition 22; approved in 2000, it also limited marriage to a man and a woman. 'This is now about whether a majority can take away an inalienable right from one group of Californians,' Minter said. 'If the court were to say it's OK … then no one's rights would mean very much.' Starr did not respond to interview requests. But his co-counsel, Folsom attorney Andrew Pugno, disagreed with Minter's contention that Proposition 8 should never have been on the ballot."

Here's an interview Minter gave to Towleroad at the Democratic National Convention in Denver before Proposition 8 was approved by voters:

Nationwide vigils are scheduled for Wednesday night across California. Find out more about one in your town at EveOfJustice.com or MarriageEqualityUSA.org. Marriage Equality USA is just $18,000 short of the financing they need to secure a jumbotron for Thursdays hearings just outside the California Supreme Court.

Sean Chapin created a video about the upcoming Wednesday night events. Watch it,
AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Arguments Challenging Proposition 8 to Be Heard Thursday" »


Towleroad interviews Shannon Minter at the DNC
Attorney who Argued California Same-Sex Marriage Case

For all our coverage thus far of the Democratic National Convention, click HERE.

We also have a slideshow with images from the DNC that we've been adding to all week, HERE.

08Earlier this week, at the LGBT Caucus lunch on Monday, we were able to speak with Shannon Minter, Legal Director for National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Minter, along with San Francisco Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart, argued and oversaw the case that ultimately resulted in the 4-3 decision by the California Supreme Court, lead by Chief Justice Ronald George, to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

Minter discusses the case, as well as the challenges ahead in battling Proposition 8, the anti-gay ballot measure that would effectively ban same-sex marriage in the state.

No on Prop 8 [official site]

Previously
Michelle Obama Speaks to LGBT Delegates at Convention Lunch [tr]
Hillary Clinton Nails it at the DNC [tr]
Towleroad Talks with the Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart [tr]
Congressman Barney Frank Talks to Towleroad at the DNC [tr]
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin talks to Towleroad at the DNC [tr]


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