Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Supreme Court’

DOMA Bites the Dust

Monday, July 1st, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court’s voted 5-4 to strike down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Swing voter Anthony Kennedy joined the liberal wing of the court –Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Dissenting were Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.. They also ruled that the plaintiffs in the case of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, did not have the legal standing to bring that lawsuit.

The decision is expected to have major consequences on health coverage for legally married same-sex partners of federal employees and members of the military, as well as on tax treatment for private health coverage (a 2007 report from left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress and the UCLA’s Williams Institute found that employees with partners pay over $1,000 more in taxes each year than their married peers).  The caveat is that the ruling applies on to states where same-sex marriage is legal. New Yorkers will benefit; Pennsylvanians will not.

The ruling seems to confirm a sea change in gay rights in this century. Take American corporations which have been far more progressive than the courts on these issues. Hundreds of U.S. employers, both large and small, signed on to an amicus brief against DOMA in February, arguing that treating same-sex couples differently hurt recruiting efforts, as well as employer-employee relations. Nike, Apple and Starbucks were among the nearly 300 firms that joined in filing the brief. According to the Human Rights Coalition, a group that advocates for gay rights, 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner health benefits.

DOMA barred the government from treating same-sex partners as married, raising the cost of healthcare for same-sex couples and denying them eligibility for federally guaranteed rights such as medical and family leave, and, in some cases, Medicare. In all, it denied more than 1,100 benefits to married gay and lesbian couples.

Thirteen states have or are in the process of legalizing gay marriage.  They join thirteen countries around the world including Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and Sweden.

“The principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 5-4 decision. “This requires the Court to hold, as it now does, that DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.” Kennedy’s 26-page opinion says Congress’ explicit purpose in passing DOMA was to expose same-sex couples in state-sanctioned marriages to “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma,” which violated the Fifth Amendment guarantee of rights to life, liberty and property.

The law also harmed these children financially, Kennedy wrote, because health benefits provided to same-sex spouses were not entitled to the same federal tax-exemptions as those of heterosexual families’, creating unequal costs for same-sex households. The law also denied survivorship benefits for spouses and children through Social Security.

Virginia Judge Rules Against a Key Proviso of Healthcare Reform Law

Monday, December 20th, 2010

A conservative federal judge in Virginia has ruled that a key provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Specifically, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson overturned the section of the healthcare reform law that requires all Americans to purchase healthcare insurance starting in 2014.  The Obama administration will appeal the decision, which is likely to end up before the United States Supreme Court.  Previous lawsuits in Michigan and Florida have been dismissed and additional cases are pending, including one filed by 20 other states.  Hudson agreed with Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli in saying the mandate overstepped the Constitution.

Hudson, who was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush, explained his decision this way.  “Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market,” he wrote.   “In doing so, enactment of the (individual mandate) exceeds the Commerce Clause powers vested in Congress under Article I (of the Constitution).  The outcome of this case has significant public policy implications.  And the final word will undoubtedly reside with a higher court.  At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance — or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage — it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate.”

We are confident that this law is constitutional, and we are confident that the Supreme Court when, and if, it hears this case will agree that it’s constitutional,” an Obama administration official said.   White House healthcare reform director Nancy-Ann DeParle said the administration is encouraged by the two other judges who have upheld the law.  She noted that the Justice Department is presently reviewing Hudson’s ruling.