Supreme Court Questions Whether Marriage is a Federal Issue

What the Court says in questions does not necessarily reflect how they will rule.

However, two days’ of questioning concerning Proposition 8, which was heard yesterday and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was heard today, seems to form a consistent pattern. The justices have remarked twice now on the fact that marriage has always been a state issue.

I don’t know if that’s an indicator of how they will rule, but I sincerely hope so. I think it would be disastrous for the Court to wade into this explosive issue that the states are actually handling through the electoral process with a judicial fiat. There is no reason that I can see for the justices to silence the voice of the people with thunder from the Court.

No one knows, but questions for the justices themselves seem to echo this sentiment. Justice Kennedy questioned whether the Court should be hearing these cases at all. On the other hand, Justice Gader-Ginsberg commented that DOMA reduced gay marriages to “skim milk” marriages.

I honestly don’t know what a “skim milk” marriage would be, but I assume that the question was meant to support gay marriage. I could be wrong, but that’s my guess.

From the Wall Street Journal:

By EVAN PEREZ, BRENT KENDALL and JESS BRAVIN

WASHINGTON—Justice Anthony Kennedy on Wednesday questioned whether the federal government has the right to define marriage, a role traditionally reserved for states, in the second day of Supreme Court arguments on gay marriage.

The comments by Justice Kennedy, seen as holding a key vote on the court, came after several justices sharply challenged the Obama administration’s handling of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Some questioned whether the court should be hearing the case at all.

Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger tells WSJ’s Jerry Seib that arguments in the Supreme Court suggest justices may be seeking a narrow ruling that clears the paths for state action on gay marriage, rather than a sweeping ruling to settle the issue.

The arguments concluded shortly past noon Wednesday, a day after the justices heard a case on California’s gay-marriage ban.

Former Solicitor General Paul Clement, defending the 1996 federal law, said it merely defines marriage for the purposes of the federal government and doesn’t bind states, regardless of whether they want to approve gay marriage.

Justice Kennedy, however, jumped to express concerns with that argument, questioning whether the federal government was intruding on the states’ territory. He said the Defense of Marriage Act ran the risk of conflicting with states’ role in defining marriage.

Liberal justices joined Justice Kennedy in questioning the law. Justice Elena Kagan said it raised red flags, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the federal law diminished same-sex marriages to “skim milk” marriages. (Read more here.)

 

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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