Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Marriage Equality' Category

Nevada Officials Won’t Defend Ban on Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

In one of the more recent marriage equality battles, Nevada officials have changed course, deciding not to defend the state’s gay marriage ban after recent court decisions made the state’s arguments “no longer defensible.”  The Associated Press is reporting that this move comes at the same time as other courts and the federal government have “chipped away at laws that prohibit same-sex marriage and benefit…”

Tara Borelli, senior attorney with Lambda Legal, said Nevada’s move is “a signal there’s no longer any excuse to defend this discrimination… I think it will send a powerful message to the court that no Nevada official is willing to defend the ban any longer.”

Since December, federal judges have struck down state bans on marriage equality in Utah and Oklahoma for the same reason Nevada dropped its case.  Both made the conclusion that these bans violate the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law.

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Chief Justice Moore Pushes for Marriage-Defining Amendment

Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court is making waves by advocating that states call for amending the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and woman.

“The moral foundation of our country is under attack,” Chief Justice Moore told the Associated Press. He said it is appropriate for him to urge action because Alabama has a state constitutional amendment like the one he supports nationally, and “Basically, I’m upholding the law.”

State Rep. Patricia Todd, a Democrat who is openly gay and who married her partner out of state, said, “He’s fighting a losing battle, and he probably knows that.” The chief justice has written 50 state governors. Todd said most of them will probably throw his letter away.

While previously serving as chief justice, Moore became well-known in 2003 for refusing to follow a court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building. He was removed from the bench. He won re-election in 2012.

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Analysis: Greater Reach for High Court’s Marriage Ruling

Another timely reminder of how courts matter comes in a New Yorker blog post by attorney Richard Socarides entitled “The Growing Impact of the Supreme Court’s Gay-Marriage Ruling.”

In United States v. Windsor last year, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a key section the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), denying federal benefits to gay or lesbian couples who are married. The court did not go so far as to find a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples.

Nonetheless, Socarides writes, “The sweeping significance of the Supreme Court’s landmark gay-rights decision in United States v. Windsor, last June, has become even more evident in the past month, thanks to a series of important lower-court decisions that have interpreted it broadly.” He chronicles these rulings and suggests that “the language of the Windsor decision may have been so powerful that the Court in fact accelerated a movement it sought to temporarily restrain.”

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Supreme Court Puts Same-Sex Marriage Ruling on Hold

Last month, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby of Utah found that Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples was unconstitutional. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court halted further marriages for same-sex couples in Utah while state officials there appeal Judge Shelby’s ruling in the federal courts.

Utah had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block Judge Shelby’s ruling, saying he mistakenly created a new constitutional right for same-sex couples.

According to veteran legal journalist Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, Monday’s high court action “can be interpreted as an indication that the Court wants to have further exploration in lower courts of the basic constitutional question of state power to limit marriage to a man and a woman.” Denniston added that as a result of Monday’s ruling, “it now appears almost certain that the question of state power to bar same-sex marriages will not be before the Justices during the current Term.” Read more

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Will Supreme Court Address Marriage Issue Merits Soon?

When will the U.S. Supreme Court tackle the brewing legal issue of whether state bans on marriage for same-sex couples violate guarantees of equal protection and due process in the Constitution? Due to recent events, that day may be approaching.

In  December, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby of Utah (photo) found that state’s ban on unions for same-sex couples was unconstitutional. Utah responded by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block his ruling, saying he created a new constitutional right for such couples, according to the Washington Post.

At his Election Law Blog, scholar Rick Hasen wrote a commentary entitled, “How Soon Before SCOTUS Reaches Merits of Same-Sex Marriage Issue? Very Soon.”

A New York Times article profiled Judge Shelby, saying the case “case has transformed [him] into a hero for hundreds of newlywed gay couples and an object of derision for many social conservatives who supported Utah’s 2004 ban on such unions.” Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, labeled him an “activist federal judge.” Read more

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Blog: Iowa a Crucible for Attacks on Judges

Regular readers of Gavel Grab are familiar with Iowa’s turbulent judicial retention (yes-or-no) elections in recent years. In 2010, three Iowa Supreme Court justices were ousted in retaliation for a controversial marriage ruling. In 2012, a similar ouster effort against a fourth justice was turned back, and the justice was retained.

For those less familiar with this history, the Talking Points Memo blog recaps much of it in fixing a spotlight on a more recent, related event: The Family Leader group posted last month an attack on Polk County District Judge Karen Romano, saying she apparently “has not learned a lesson” from” the 2010 election (see Gavel Grab). The Family Leader and some outside groups sought the justices’ removal then.

Judge Romano recently stirred controversy for some when she stayed a new Iowa Board of Medicine rule adopted to regulate medication abortions.

Talking Points Memo writer Andy Kopsa sees in Iowa — and other states — a growing threat to fair and impartial courts through retention election ouster efforts driven by special interests for political reasons: Read more

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Impeachment Sought for Judge in Ohio Marriage Case

Ohio’s constitution bans marriage of same-sex couples, but a federal judge recently recognized the marriage of a same-sex Ohio couple who wed out-of-state. Now Republican state Rep. John Becker (photo) has urged the start of impeachment proceedings against the judge for “malfeasance and abuse of power.”

Becker urged U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, to launch impeachment proceedings against Federal District Judge Timothy S. Black, according to a Cincinnati.com article. Here is Wenstrup’s reply:

“While Judge Black’s ruling violated the Ohio Constitution and the will of Ohio voters, the question of whether this decision also violated the U.S. Constitution remains before a higher court. I will watch those appellate proceedings closely to see if Judge Black’s decision is upheld and I have full confidence in the Ohio’s office of the Attorney General during the appeals process.”

When Judge Black recognized earlier this year the marriage of James Obergefell and John Arthur, who were wed in Maryland, he wrote, “This is not a complicated case.” He went on, according to the Washington Post,  ”The issue is whether the State of Ohio can discriminate against same sex marriages lawfully solemnized out of state, when Ohio law has historically and unambiguously provided that the validity of a marriage is determined by whether it complies with the law of the jurisdiction where it was celebrated.” Read more

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IA Justice Removed Three Years Ago Still Backs Retention Elections

Former Chief Justice Marsha Ternus of the Iowa Supreme Court was removed in a retention election almost three years ago amid an ouster campaign over a controversial court ruling.

Nonetheless, she still supports the retention (up-or-down) election process that is part of Iowa’s merit-based system for choosing judges, according to a Des Moines Register article.

It’s important for Iowans to remember that merit selection is the best means for getting qualified justices on the court, Justice Ternus said:

“I think what’s more significant is what we talked about today going forward and to make sure that we protect the merit selection that we have of judges here in Iowa. It’s the best way to make sure that we have a competent judiciary and one that will adhere to the rule of law.” Read more

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Leaders Urge IA Board to Probe Court Elections Spending Complaint

Two prominent, bipartisan defenders of fair and impartial courts in Iowa are using a Des Moines Register commentary to urge the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board to investigate a complaint alleging the violation of state law during state Supreme Court retention elections in 2010 and 2012.

Political activist Fred Karger alleged in June that the National Organization for Marriage had violated state law by failing to disclose all of its donors when it pushed in the retention elections to oust four Iowa Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab).

The newspaper commentary was written by Sally Pederson and Joy Corning, former Democratic and Republican lieutenant governors, respectively, and honorary co-chairs of Justice Not Politics, a nonpartisan coalition. They wrote:

“There is no question that donations will continue to pour into our state, but unless we discover definitively whether the law was broken, Iowa will be open for business to any group that wants to use its limitless campaign funds to influence our courts.” Read more

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In Wake of Marriage Rulings, More Pitched Battles Ahead Over Courts?

Some of the harshest attacks launched against  fair and impartial courts over single decisions were sparked by state judges’ votes on issues surrounding marriage for same-sex couples.

Now that the Supreme Court has issued two marriage rulings, some experts predict there may be more hard-fought court fights ahead, especially as advocates challenge state bans on marriage between same-sex couples.

Although the Supreme Court did not rule this week on a right to marriage, said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, its opinion striking down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) gives advocates of gay rights more fodder to challenge marriage bans.

“This is the beginning of a whole new round of jurisprudence,” Romero told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s enormously significant.”

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