Entries in Constitution (3)


Second Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Key Provision of DOMA

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A federal appeals court in New York Thursday struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), ruling that section 3 of the federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

“DOMA’s classification of same-sex spouses was not substantially related to an important government interest,” Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote for the 2-1 court. “Accordingly, we hold that section 3 of DOMA violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional.”

The opinion marks the second time an appeals court has struck down the law, but the first time that an appeals court has relied upon a heightened scrutiny standard in doing so.

“Heightened scrutiny means that if the government is going to discriminate against a particular group, it needs to have a very convincing justification for the discrimination,” said Tobias B. Wolff, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania.

The New York case involves Edith Windsor, who in 2007 married Thea Spyer, her partner of more than 40 years. The couple were married in Canada, but resided in New York until Spyer died in 2009. Windsor was forced to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes. She applied for a refund, believing she was entitled to a marital deduction, but she was denied the claim on the grounds that she was not a “spouse” within the meaning of DOMA.

“Yet again, a federal court has found that it is completely unfair to treat married same-sex couples as though they’re legal strangers,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU LGBT Project and a lawyer for Windsor, said after the ruling. “Edie and Thea were there for each other in sickness and in health like any other married couple, and it’s unfair for the government to disregard both their marriage and the life they built together and treat them like second-class citizens.”

In 2011 the Obama administration decided it could no longer defend DOMA in court, arguing that it was unconstitutional. In court briefs, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. described the impact of the law.

“Although section 3 of DOMA does not purport to invalidate same-sex marriages in those states that permit them, it excludes such marriage from recognition for purposes of more than 1,000 federal statutes and programs whose administration turns in part on individuals’ marital status.”

Because the government refused to defend the law in court, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, moved to intervene and appointed the U.S. House of Representatives Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) to do so.

Paul D. Clement serves as BLAG’s lawyer and stressed that DOMA was enacted with strong majorities in both houses of Congress and was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. In court briefs, Clement wrote that DOMA was not meant to invalidate any marriages, but “simply asserts the federal government’s right as separate sovereign to provide its own definition which governs only federal programs and funding.”

Thursday’s decision was written by Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, who is considered a conservative judge and was nominated to the bench by George H.W. Bush.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


White House Advisor: Obama Supports Holder on KSM Decision

FBI/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- David Plouffe, a senior advisor in the White House, said the president supports Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military tribunal.

Holder originally announced that Mohammed would be tried in a civilian federal court under Article Three of the Constitution, but changed course after Congress blocked funding that would have allowed him to do so.

Plouffe said Obama also agreed with Holder’s original decision to try Mohammed in civilian court.

“Look, here’s the decision he had to make,” Plouffe said, the president “supported the Attorney General’s original decision to try and do this in Article Three, but it’s clear that that just wasn’t going to happen. So you have to make a decision then. With Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was it that he would essentially be in limbo, perhaps forever? Where there would be no justice for those families, as we’re now ten years after 9/11? Or we were going to try and achieve justice through the military commission? So the Attorney General made that decision and the president agreed with it,” Plouffe said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court Upholds Tax Credits for Donations to Religious Non-Profits

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A sharply divided Supreme Court on Monday found that Arizona taxpayers do not have the legal right to challenge a state law that allows residents to receive tax credits for contributions to non-profit organizations . The law allows those non-profit organizations to use the funds to give scholarships to children who want to attend private schools.

The taxpayers had challenged the law arguing that in practice the non-profit groups only provided aid to students attending religious schools in violation of the Constitution. The Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits government actions from favoring one religion over another.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by the four conservative justices, said that taxpayers only have the so-called "legal standing" to bring such a suit if it involves a government expenditure, not a tax credit.

The Arizona legislature passed the law in 1997 to encourage greater educational choice for disadvantaged elementary school children. Any taxpayer can participate, but parents are forbidden from earmarking a donation for their child.

Because the court found that the taxpayers could not bring the suit, it did not reach a decision on whether the law itself is constitutional.

Monday’s decision will narrow the ability for taxpayers in general to challenge alleged Establishment Clause violations. A number of other states have programs like Arizona.

"This is a big deal because it permits the government to aid religious causes through the tax credit device without fear of any litigation that might disturb the government policy," says Ira. C. Lupu, an expert on church and state issues at George Washington Law School.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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