Saturday, July 10, 2010
DOMA, Prop 8 and Appeals: Outcomes and Next Steps
Yesterday's holding by a Federal District Court Judge that DOMA is Unconstitutional is a big step...but not the end. This was a decision issued by a federal judge on a federal law, but only in a "local" (Massachusetts) case. The question remains of how we turn a Federal District Court holding into a national holding. It would be very unusual for the entire federal government to just roll over and say, "OK, we gotta change now, Congress was wrong on this" as a result of a single District Court holding.
In the best of all worlds, the decision would need to be appealed to (and affirmed by) the Appellate level (and maybe moved on certiorari to the Supreme Court) strictly on the 10th Amendement aspect of the holding, to create a national holding. The 10th Amendment specifically grants to the States the right to legislate in those areas not given Federal jurisdiction, and this was the legal basis for yesterday's decision: States, not the Federal Government, are the entities with authority to define Marriage. DOMA attempted to allow the Federal Government to ignore State Marriage laws that recognize same-sex unions.
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, another decision looms. California's Proposition 8 overturned same-sex marriage in that state, and the Proposition has been challenged on other federal grounds: this one, however, is not based on "State's Rights," but on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. The specific holding of that trial - which could be released any day - may very well provide a second Federal ruling requiring clarification or appeal...which could accelerate the process.
I expect that, if appealed, the two cases would be joined at the Supreme Court.
Back to yesterday's DOMA ruling: This puts Obama in a very difficult position. On one hand, he could decide to support the Massachusetts District Court decision nationwide; this would be highly unusual, maybe even unprecedented. District Court level Judges issue rulings all the time, often contradictory with each other and almost never with national application overnight.
On the other hand, Obama's Justice Department could Appeal the Massachusetts ruling, thus angering the less-than-critically-thinking gay blogosphere that understands that it *won* at the District Court level.
Whatever Obama decides to do, he must articulate his reasoning WELL both publicly and "within" party and GLBT leadership so its clear what is going on.