SCOTUS: A Term In Review (Part 1 of 2) – RantAWeek

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SCOTUS: A Term In Review (Part 1 of 2)

Posted by mjdudak on June 29, 2013 at 11:40 pm

This past week, the Supreme Court of the United States (or SCOTUS) wrapped up. The 9 men and women that make up the highest court in the land ended their session with several landmark cases, RantAWeek breaks down four of them, these are the first two, the next two will be coming up in the next few days.

United States v. Windsor

The court broke down in a 5-4 decision on Windsor, with the liberals (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayer and Kagan) and the swing vote of Kennedy. Kennedy wrote the opinion. This case was a case regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA). DOMA essentially defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman for the purposes of all federal law. This meant that same-sex couples could be legally married at the state level and get benefits (no inheritance taxes, joint tax filings etc.) on a state level, but not on a federal level. Ultimately, in an opinion written by Kennedy, the court decided that DOMA was unconstitutional. However Kennedy carefully worded this so that the opinion sets precedent for sure, but still dances around whether or not same-sex marriage itself is a constitutional right. Kennedy essentially wrote an opinion on federalism, not marriage. His opinion outlined only that in states that have legalized same-sex marriage, the federal government must recognize all those marriages as legal marriages.

Hollingsworth v. Perry

Instead of issuing a decisive decision on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in this case, the court again got caught up on the issue of standing. The court again broke down 5-4, but this time, on anything but ideological lines. The majority consisted of two conservatives (Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia), and three liberals (Breyer, Ginsburg and Kagan). Very rarely is it that Scalia and Ginsburg are on the same side on any case, but once the actual reasoning behind the decision is revealed, it makes a little more sense. In no way is the court saying that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, instead, they are making a decision based solely on the standing to appeal. The tricky thing about this case is that two same-sex couples sued the state for passing Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages. The federal district court ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. However, the government of California agreed with this decision and decided to not pursue any appeal of the case. So instead, proponents of Proposition 8 decided to appeal it. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th District agreed with the district court on its unconstitutionality. However, the SCOTUS essentially said that the proponents of Proposition 8, because they have no investment in the case, they have no standing to appeal. Thus, the court essentially says that the district court’s ruling was the final ruling unless the government of California decided to support Proposition 8. The results of this case are essentially that Proposition 8 is dead in California, and the government can now issue same-sex marriage licenses.

In the following days, RantAWeek will give brief coverage of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin and Shelby v. Holder on Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act, respectively.


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