Chief Washington correspondent Marcia Coyle was inside the Supreme Court today for the announcement of the opinions in the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 cases. Coyle, a veteran Supreme Court reporter, spoke with NLJ's Mike Scarcella about the two rulings.
Here's Coyle's initial take:
The rulings today will be a clear victory for gay rights organizations. Getting DOMA struck down in states that do recognize same sex marriages, and having the district court injunction be what is left in California in the Proposition 8 case, is clearly a victory for gay rights organizations and proponents of same-sex marriages.
Although the court was divided in its rulings on both the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, the justices, as expected, did not announce a national right to marriage for same sex couples.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the DOMA case, made clear that his opinion was confined to same sex couples who are married under their state laws. That means that married same sex couples in twelve states, and the District of Columbia, should be able to receive federal benefits and other federal entitlements. DOMA affected more than 1,000 federal laws.
Justice Kennedy, as he has in prior decisions involving gay rights, spoke of the unequal treatment that the Defense of Marriage Act imposed. He said that the history of DOMA's enactment, and its text, shows its primary purpose was to treat gay marriages as second class marriages.
Justice Scalia read an impassioned summary of his defense for roughly ten minutes. He said two parts of the court's decision were wrong. The majority had also found the court had justification to reach the merits of the challenge to DOMA. Justice Scalia said the United States had agreed with the lower court's ruling striking down DOMA. He said the decision to decide the merits was self-aggrandizement. On the merits, Justice Scalia said the results of the decision would be a judicial distortion of the public debate.
In the Proposition 8 case, the impact of the court's ruling today is to vacate the Ninth Circuit's decision, holding that Proposition 8 violated the federal constitution. The ruling leaves in place the district court's injunction against enforcement of Proposition 8 in the state of California. There may be further litigation over that injunction--how far reaching it is in the state of California.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote the Proposition 8 decision. He said that the proponents of Prop 8 had no direct stake in the outcome of the case once Proposition 8 had been adopted by the voters. They could not show a personal, particularized injury, which is required for standing in federal courts. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged retirements among court personnel and then announced the end of the term until the first Monday in October.