Tea Leaves and Goat’s Entrails: Guessing What the Supremes Will Do About Gay Marriage

I’ve read that the ancients used to slaughter a goat and study its entrails to try to predict the future. Others made tea and studied how the tea leaves settled to the bottom of the cup for the same purpose.

We all want to know what’s going to happen. We’re smart enough to anticipate, but not prescient enough to know. This human conundrum has kept fortune tellers and sooth sayers of one sort or the other in business for all of human history.

I’m telling you this as a caution. What observers of the Supreme Court think they see in the twitch of a judicial eyebrow or rise of a voice at the end of a question may, in reality, be nothing more than a tic or a frog in the throat. Ditto for the questions the Justices ask. They ask questions for their own reasons, or sometimes I’m sure, for the other justices’ needs. Questions, facial expressions and tones of voice do not Supreme Court rulings make.

Having cautioned you — and myself — with all this, I have to admit that what the press is saying about the Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8 today seems to reflect what I’ve been saying all along: Do they really want to jump in there and take the authority to make this decision on themselves? Would they be pushing the country over a cliff? Wouldn’t it be wiser, more honest, and frankly, more in keeping with the Constitutional authority vested in the Court, to let the people continue to work this out through the electoral process?

After all, it is working. 

Tomorrow, the Court will hear arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act. While DOMA is important, Proposition 8 is the big one. The reason I say that is because Prop 8 is the question that opens the door for the Court to take the powers which have heretofore been vested in the states onto itself. 

These decisions, and the possible fall-out from them, hang like the Sword of Damocles over this nation. Will the Court be wise and let the people speak, or will it be foolish and thrust this country over the culture war cliff altogether?

From the Chicago Tribune:

It was the first of two days of argument. On Wednesday, the court will consider the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples. Rulings in both cases are expected by the end of June.

The narrower DOMA case does not give the court the same opportunity to issue a broad ruling because the case relates only to a federal law that limits the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples for the purposes of federal benefits.

Only the California Proposition 8 case gave the court the option of finding a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry. Polls show growing support among Americans for gay marriage.

But during the argument, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is considered a swing vote, raised concerns about the court entering “uncharted waters” on an issue that divides the states.

Kennedy even raised the prospect of the court dismissing the case, a relatively unusual move that would leave intact a federal appeals court ruling that had earlier struck down the California law, known as Proposition 8.

In a similar vein, Justice Samuel Alito also urged caution, noting that gay marriage, as a concept, is “newer than cellphones and the Internet.”

None of the justices indicated support for the Obama administration’s favored solution, which would strike down Proposition 8 and require the eight states that already recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships to allow gays and lesbians to marry. (Read more.) 


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