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Wed Jun 26, 2019, 08:21 AM

June 26, Equal Rights Day at SCOTUS: Lawrence (2003), Windsor and Perry (2013), Obergefell (2015)

Last edited Wed Jun 26, 2019, 08:54 AM - Edit history (1)

Lawrence v. Texas

Argued: March 26, 2003
Decided: June 26, 2003

A Texas law classifying consensual, adult homosexual intercourse as illegal sodomy violated the privacy and liberty of adults to engage in private intimate conduct under the 14th Amendment. Court of Appeals for the Fourteenth District of Texas reversed.

Case opinions
Majority: Kennedy, joined by Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer
Concurrence: O'Connor
Dissent: Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, Thomas
Dissent: Thomas

Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV;
Tex. Penal Code § 21.06(a) (2003)

This case overturned a previous ruling or rulings
Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)

Lawrence vs. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that American laws prohibiting private homosexual activity between consenting adults are unconstitutional. The Court reaffirmed the concept of a "right to privacy" that earlier cases, such as Roe v. Wade, had found the U.S. Constitution provides even though it is not explicitly enumerated. The Court based its ruling on the notions of personal autonomy to define one's own relationships and of American traditions of non-interference with private sexual decisions between consenting adults.

In September 1998, John Geddes Lawrence Jr. was arrested along with an acquaintance at his apartment in Harris County, Texas, when sheriff's deputies found them engaging in sexual intercourse. Lawrence and his partner Tyron Garner were charged with a misdemeanor under Texas' anti-sodomy law; both pleaded no contest and received a fine. Lawrence and Garner, assisted by the American civil rights organization Lambda Legal, appealed the sentence to the Texas Courts of Appeals, which ruled in 2000 that the sodomy law was unconstitutional. Texas appealed to have the court rehear the case en banc, and in 2001 it overturned its prior judgment and upheld the law. Lawrence appealed this decision to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which denied his request for appeal. Lawrence then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his case.

The Supreme Court struck down the sodomy law in Texas in a 6–3 decision and, by extension, invalidated sodomy laws in 13 other states, making same-sex sexual activity legal in every U.S. state and territory. The Court, with a five-justice majority, overturned its previous ruling on the same issue in the 1986 case Bowers v. Hardwick, where it upheld a challenged Georgia statute and did not find a constitutional protection of sexual privacy. It explicitly overruled Bowers, holding that it had viewed the liberty interest too narrowly. The Court held that intimate consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Lawrence invalidated similar laws throughout the United States that criminalized sodomy between consenting adults acting in private, whatever the sex of the participants.

The case attracted much public attention, and a large number of amici curiae ( "friends of the court" ) briefs were filed. Its outcome was celebrated by gay rights advocates, and set the stage for further reconsiderations of standing law, including the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges which recognized same-sex marriage as a fundamental right under the United States Constitution.

United States v. Windsor

Argued: March 27, 2013
Decided: June 26, 2013

Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which federally defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, is unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause's guarantee of equal protection. The federal government must recognize same-sex marriages that have been approved by the states. The judgment of the Second Circuit is affirmed.

Case opinions
Majority: Kennedy, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan
Dissent: Roberts
Dissent: Scalia, joined by Thomas; Roberts (part I)
Dissent: Alito, joined by Thomas (parts II, III)

Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. III, U.S. Const. amend. V; Defense of Marriage Act § 3

United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013), is a landmark United States Supreme Court civil rights case concerning same-sex marriage. The Court held that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denied federal recognition of same-sex marriages, was a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, a same-sex couple residing in New York, had their marriage recognized by the state of New York in 2008; Spyer died in 2009, leaving her entire estate to Windsor. Windsor sought to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses, but was barred from doing so by Section 3 of DOMA. Seeking a refund, Windsor sued the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. As the Department of Justice declined to defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) intervened to defend the law. District Judge Barbara S. Jones ruled that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional, and her ruling was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in December 2012 and handed down its judgment on June 26, 2013. In the majority opinion, which was joined by four other justices, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional "as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment". He further wrote: "The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity." Three justices filed dissenting opinions, including Justice Antonin Scalia, who argued that the Court had "no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation."

On the same day, the Court also issued a separate 5–4 decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry that effectively allowed same-sex marriages in that state to resume. Following the decision, the Obama administration began to extend other federal rights, privileges, and benefits to married same-sex couples. Two years later, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage, ruling that marriage is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause.

Hollingsworth v. Perry

Argued: March 26, 2013
Decided: June 26, 2013

After lower courts ruled that California's ban on same-sex marriage was an unconstitutional violation of the right to equal protection under the law, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage opponents did not have standing to intervene as they could not demonstrate that they were harmed by the decision.

Case opinions
Majority: Roberts, joined by Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan
Dissent: Kennedy, joined by Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor

Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. III

Hollingsworth v. Perry were a series of United States federal court cases that legalized same-sex marriage in the State of California. The case began in 2009 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which found that banning same-sex marriage violates equal protection under the law. This decision overturned ballot initiative Proposition 8, which had banned same-sex marriage. After the State of California refused to defend Proposition 8, the official sponsors of Proposition 8 intervened and appealed to the Supreme Court. The case was litigated during the governorships of both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, and was thus known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger and Perry v. Brown, respectively. As Hollingsworth v. Perry, it eventually reached the United States Supreme Court, which held that, in line with prior precedent, the official sponsors of a ballot initiative measure did not have Article III standing to appeal an adverse federal court ruling when the state refused to do so.

The effect of the ruling was that same-sex marriage in California resumed under the district court trial decision from 2010. Other findings from the trial decision, including Justice Walker's findings of fact, remain controlling precedent for future relevant cases. The case was docketed with the Supreme Court at 570 U.S. 693 (2013) (Docket No. 12-144).

Obergefell v. Hodges

Argued: April 28, 2015
Decided: June 26, 2015
Full case name James Obergefell, et al., Petitioners v. Richard Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al.

The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex, and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State. United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed. Baker v. Nelson overturned.

Case opinions
Majority: Kennedy, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan
Dissent: Roberts, joined by Scalia, Thomas
Dissent: Scalia, joined by Thomas
Dissent: Thomas, joined by Scalia
Dissent: Alito, joined by Scalia, Thomas

Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015) (/ˈoʊbərɡəfɛl/ OH-bər-gə-fel), is a landmark civil rights case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The 5–4 ruling requires all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and the Insular Areas to perform and recognize the marriages of same-sex couples on the same terms and conditions as the marriages of opposite-sex couples, with all the accompanying rights and responsibilities.

Between January 2012 and February 2014, plaintiffs in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee filed federal district court cases that culminated in Obergefell v. Hodges. After all district courts ruled for the plaintiffs, the rulings were appealed to the Sixth Circuit. In November 2014, following a lengthy series of appeals court rulings that year from the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits that state-level bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, the Sixth Circuit ruled that it was bound by Baker v. Nelson and found such bans to be constitutional. This created a split between circuits and led to an almost inevitable Supreme Court review.

Decided on June 26, 2015, Obergefell overturned Baker and requires all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions. This established same-sex marriage throughout the United States and its territories. In a majority opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court examined the nature of fundamental rights guaranteed to all by the Constitution, the harm done to individuals by delaying the implementation of such rights while the democratic process plays out, and the evolving understanding of discrimination and inequality that has developed greatly since Baker.

Prior to Obergefell, same-sex marriage had already been established by law, court ruling, or voter initiative in thirty-six states, the District of Columbia, and Guam.


Vaughn Walker

Vaughn Richard Walker (born 1944) served as a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California from 1989 to 2011. Walker presided over the original trial in Hollingsworth v. Perry, where he found California's Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional.

Judge Walker retired in February 2011 and on April 6 told reporters that he is gay and has been in a relationship with a male doctor for about ten years.


Walker has presided over such notable cases as lawsuits over NSA warrantless surveillance; the Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation copyright infringement case; the breach of TD Ameritrade's customer information database Clint Reilly's antitrust litigation over the Hearst Corporation's purchase of the San Francisco Chronicle; and Oracle's merger/hostile takeover of PeopleSoft, which was approved despite Justice Department opposition.

Hollingsworth v. Perry

On January 11, 2010, Walker began hearing arguments in Perry v. Brown. The case was a federal-constitutional challenge to California Proposition 8, a voter initiative constitutional amendment that eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, a right which had previously been granted after the California Supreme Court found that Proposition 22 was unconstitutional. On August 4, 2010, Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional "under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses" and prohibited its enforcement.

On April 25, 2011, supporters of Proposition 8 filed a motion in district court to vacate Walker's decision, citing Walker's own post-trial statement that he has been in a long-term relationship with another man. They argued he should have recused himself or disclosed his relationship status, and unless Walker "disavowed any interest in marrying his partner", he had "a direct personal interest in the outcome of the case." District Court Judge James Ware heard arguments on the motion on June 13 and denied it the next day, writing that "the presumption that Judge Walker, by virtue of being in a same-sex relationship, had a desire to be married that rendered him incapable of making an impartial decision, is as warrantless as the presumption that a female judge is incapable of being impartial in a case in which women seek legal relief." Legal experts noted that similar efforts to remove Hispanic judges from immigration cases or female judges from gender-discrimination cases have also failed in the past.

The Supreme Court of the United States's 2013 decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry left Walker's 2010 ruling as the final decision on Proposition 8.

The proceedings were reenacted in the stage play 8, in which Walker was portrayed by Brad Pitt and Bob Balaban.

So, whatever happened to the people who "filed a motion in district court to vacate Walker's decision, citing Walker's own post-trial statement that he has been in a long-term relationship with another man"? One of them just ended up with a lifetime appointment to the federal bench:

Senate confirms LGBTQ opponent Howard Nielson to lifetime federal judgeship

Nielson once argued that a gay judge weighing in on the Proposition 8 case could not be impartial
By John Riley on May 23, 2019 @JohnAndresRiley

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Howard C. Nielson, Jr. to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, despite his anti-LGBTQ advocacy and his claim that a gay judge was incapable of being impartial. ... Senators confirmed Nielson on a largely party-line vote, 51-47, with only Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) being the only Republican to vote against the nomination.

LGBTQ organizations and allies urged senators prior to the vote to reject Nielson, pointing to his past anti-LGBTQ advocacy, particularly around the issue of marriage equality. ... U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) circulated a letter, signed by more than 50 fellow lawmakers, calling out Nielson for his past statements on LGBTQ issues.

“Mr. Nielson has a consistent record not just of opposing LGBT equality in court, but of making offensive and unfounded arguments in the course of those proceedings. That record raises serious questions about his ability to impartially administer justice,” the letter read.

Perhaps most offensive to members of the LGBTQ community was Nielson’s contention, during the trial to determine if Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, that California federal Judge Vaughn Walker should have recused himself, as Walker could not be impartial due to having been in a committed, long-term, same-sex relationship. As the lawmakers’ letter notes: “The notion that fundamental elements of an individual’s identity somehow create intrinsic conflicts of interest is both baseless and deeply offensive. Those who make such accusations do not belong on our courts.”

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