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The Marriage Equality Decisions

Picture-1The moment of truth has finally come on the long and tortured path through the Supreme Court for the marriage equality movement. Without further adieu, the Defense Of Marriage Act has been struck down as unconstitutional under Equal Protection grounds in a 5-4 opinion authored by Anthony Kennedy. A lack of standing has been found by the court in the California Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case, thus meaning the case will revert to the Ninth Circuit decision.

Frankly, everybody in the universe is going to have instantaneous analysis and opinion on the nature and import of these two decisions. I will likely be along with the same on particular aspects later, but for now I want to get the decisions and opinions up here so that one and all can read and discuss them. Below I will give the links to the opinions and the critical language blurbs from each.

United States v. Windsor (DOMA): Here is the opinion. As stated above, it is a 5-4 split authored by Justice Kennedy, joined by the liberal bloc of Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissent in separate dissents written by Roberts and Scalia.

The opinion is very broad in range and focuses on Section 3 of DOMA, which will effectively obliterate the law. The key holding comes at the end of Kennedy’s majority opinion:

DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA in- structs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the mar- riages of others. 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. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop 8): Here is the opinion. As stated above, the court found a lack of standing by the appellants Hollingsworth (Prop 8 Proponents). ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SCALIA, GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which THOMAS, ALITO, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. So, just to be clear here: The liberals are the reason the court could not issue a decision granting ALL Americans the right to marriage equality that citizens in California, and the other few states who have state law marriage equality, will enjoy.

Anthony Kennedy, by his crystal clear decision and language he penned in the Windsor DOMA decision, and his willingness to find standing and rule on the merits in the Prop 8 case, was ready to make it happen. And all the liberal justices, save for Sonia Sotomayor, prevented it.

The court has remanded Hollingsworth back to the 9th Circuit with instructions to enter a similar ruling based on lack of standing/jurisdiction. That means that the broad and sweeping decision entered by Vaughn Walker in the district court trial will become law in California.

Now, to again be clear, I expect there will be litigation attempts by the Equality Haters to try to restrict Walker’s decision to the two plaintiff couples and/or the two respective counties at issue in the original Perry complaint. I do not believe that will bear any fruit and fully expect full marriage equality to exist across all of California, but it may not be as immediate as it should. We shall see.

In closing, a very good day for marriage equality and LGBT rights. The DOMA decision is broad and provides for heightened scrutiny in evaluating marriage and sexual identity issues; that portends well for future rights litigation. And, of course, DOMA is dead. Also heartwarming that all of California’s citizens will have their rights protected; it is, however, sad that this will not extend to all Americans.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

The Prop 8 Oral Arguments Before the Supreme Court

Picture-1A momentous morning in the Supreme Court. All the work, analysis, speculation, briefing and lobbying culminated in an oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry lasting nearly an hour and a half – half an hour over the scheduled time. There are a lot of reports and opinions floating around about what transpired.

Here is Tom Goldstein

Here is Reuters led by Lawrence Hurley and David Ingram

Here is Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog

Here is USA Today

Here is Huffington Post’s Mike Sacks with a video report

Here is Ryan Reilly and Mike Sacks with a written report at HuffPost

Suffice it to say, we do not know a heck of a lot after oral arguments than we did right before them. The full range of decision is on the table. However, there were certainly some hints given. Scalia and Alito are very hostile, and Thomas is almost certainly with them in that regard although he once again stood mute. Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor seemed receptive to the Ted Olson’s arguments. Breyer oddly quiet and hard to read. As is so often the case, that left Anthony Kennedy in effective control of the balance.

If Kennedy’s tenor at argument is any guide, and it isn’t necessarily, he is unlikely to sign on to a broad ruling. In fact he may be struggling with standing, but that is very hard to read. Several commenters I have seen interpreted Kennedy’s questions as having a real problem with standing and signaling a possibility of punting the case on that basis. From what I have read so far, I wouldn’t say that…and neither does Adam Serwer, who was present at argument.

So, in short, I would summarize thusly: Standing is a bigger issue than I had hoped, and there is more resistance to a broad ruling than I had hoped. But the game is still on. Remember when Jeff Toobin’s train wreck/plane wreck take after the ACA oral arguments; you just don’t know and cannot tell.

I will likely be back later after analysis of the pertinent material. For now, let me leave you with that material and media so you too can hear and see the groundbreaking day in the Supreme Court:

Here is the full transcript of the oral arguments

Here is the audio of the proceedings

Enjoy, and I look forward to discussing this! And, again, there will be updates to this post throughout the day, so keep checking for them.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

The Case Against Marriage Equality Backlash

LadyJusticeScalesOne of the relentless memes that keeps cropping up in the marriage equality battle is that, were the Supreme Court to grant full broad based and constitutionally protected marriage equality in the Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case, there would be a destructive backlash consuming the country on the issue.

A good example of the argument was propounded by Professor Eric Segall at the ACSBlog in a piece entitled “Same-Sex Marriage, Political Backlash and the Case for Going Slow”:

There may be a better way. The Court could strike down DOMA under heightened scrutiny making it clear that government classifications based on sexual orientation receive heightened scrutiny. The Court could dismiss the Proposition 8 case on standing grounds (there are substantial standing arguments which the Court asked the parties to brief). This combination would leave all state laws (except perhaps California’s) intact but subject to likely successful challenges. Obviously, this would be a slower and more expensive route to marriage equality, but it might make the right more secure over time while decreasing the chances of serious backlash.

I know that it is easy for a straight male like me to suggest that the Court should refrain from quickly and forcefully resolving the same sex marriage issue on a national basis. But issues that some gays care deeply about are not limited to marriage equality, just like feminists face many challenges other than abortion such as equal pay, equality in the military, and glass ceiling barriers. Where gender equality would be without Roe is unknowable but even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has observed that the right to choose today might be more secure if the Court hadn’t decided it “in one fell swoop.” I don’t know what will happen if the Court announces a national rule on same-sex marriage but history strongly suggests that a more incremental approach might better serve the long term interests of people who identify themselves as liberals and progressives, including gays and lesbians.

I like and respect Eric quite a lot, but I cannot agree with him, nor other advocates of this position (for further discussion of the “Roe backlash” theory, see Adam Liptak in the New York Times). I have long strongly advocated for a full, broad based, ruling for equality for all, in all states, most recently here. But the issue of “backlash” has not previously been specifically addressed in said discussions that I recall.

Fortunately, there are already superb voices who have addressed this issue. The first is from Harvard Law Professor Michael Klarman in the LA Times:

What sort of political backlash might such a decision ignite?

Constitutionalizing gay marriage would have no analogous impact on the lives of opponents. Expanding marriage to include same-sex couples may alter the institution’s meaning for religious conservatives who believe that God created marriage to propagate the species. But that effect is abstract and
Read more

A Path To Civil Rights History For the Supreme Court, Obama and Verrilli

Supreme Court CoolJust about a month ago, in urging the Obama Administration to file a brief in favor of marriage equality in the Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case before the Supreme Court, I described the stakes:

And here we are on the cusp on the next defining moment in the quest for equality for all in the US. It is not for origin, not for skin color, not for gender, but for something every bit as root fundamental, sexual identity and preference. Marriage equality, yes, but more than that, equality for all as human beings before the law and governmental function.

For all the talk of the DOMA cases, the real linchpin for the last measure of equality remains the broad mandate achievable only through Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case.

It was true then, it is true now. To the everlasting credit of of President Obama, Solicitor General Verrilli and the Administration, they did indeed file a brief in support. It was a surprisingly strong brief with a clarion call for full equality based upon heightened scrutiny; yet is was conflicted with a final ask only for a restricted ruling limited in application to either just California or, at most, a handful of somewhat similarly situated states. In short, the ask in the Administration’s brief was not for equality for all, in all the states; just in some.

On the eve of one one of the seminal moments of Supreme Court history – it is easily arguable this is far more of a defining moment than the ACA Healthcare scuffle was – it is again incumbent on the Administration to give the justices the headroom to make a broad decision granting equality for all.

Even in the short time since the Obama Administration filed their brief, between February 28 and now, the mounting tide of public opinion and desire for full equality has grown substantially in multiple ways. Colorado, a state where the thought was once beyond contentious, passed full civil union equality and Governor Hickenlooper signed it into law. And a new comprehensive Washington Post/ABC News public poll has found that a full 58% of Americans now support the legality of gay nuptials, and a whopping 81% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 so support.

The writing is on the wall, and the trend overwhelming. And it simply does not make sense for the Obama Administration to buck this tidal wave and argue only for equality in a handful of states, with equality for some, but far from for all. Barack Obama and Donald Verrilli laid every bit the foundation needed to argue for broad based full equality – in all states – in their brief.

It is time for Mr. Obama and Mr. Verrilli to step up and forcefully tell the Supreme Court that full equality is the right way to rule. The Court granted Solicitor General Verrilli time to express the Administration’s position in the oral argument Tuesday; he should use it in the name and cause of full broad based equality. It is a time for leadership; this is a moment for Mr. Obama and his attorney to display it.

By the same token, it is also time for the Supreme Court to do the same. So often it has been argued the “Court should not get out in front of popular opinion”. Bollocks, the Court should refuse to put themselves behind public opinion, and an ever strengthening one at that, by shamefully ducking the perfect opportunity to stand for that which the Constitution purports to stand, equal protection for all.

There are a myriad of legal arguments and discussions, and just about every commenter and expert in the field has been offering them up over the last week. I will leave that to another day, after the court has heard the oral arguments, we have our first inclination of what the justices are focused on, and the case is under advisement for decision.

For now, here are a couple of warms ups for Tuesday’s oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry/Prop 8 and Wednesday’s oral argument in United States v. Windsor/DOMA. First a nice little video “Viewer’s Guide to Gay Marriage Oral Arguments” with Supreme Court barrister extraordinaire, and SCOTUSBlog founder, Tom Goldstein. Here is a handy flow chart of all the different possibilities, and the why for each, of how the court may rule on both cases. It is really pretty neat and useful tool.

The briefing is long done now and the Justices understand the issues. But if the ACA/Healthcare cases taught us anything, it is that Justice Roberts is concerned about the legacy and esteem of the court. And Justice Kennedy has already shown how committed he is to fairness in social justice issues and willing to even go out on limbs ahead of controversial public opinion with his written opinions.

At this point, the most effective leverage is not repeated discussion of the minutiae of law, but rather the demonstration of the righteousness of full equality. History will prove fools of those who sanction continued bigotry against marital equality, and anything less than a broad based heightened scrutiny finding, for equality for all people, in all states, is a continuation of such unacceptable bigotry.

UPDATE: Professor Adam Winkler of UCLA has a piece out today that embodies my point in the post perfectly. Discussing the disastrous and ugly 1986 decision of the Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick to uphold sodomy laws when times and opinion had already changed, and the profound regret felt by Anthony Kennedy’s predecessor, Lewis Powell, Professor Winkler writes:

Kennedy is clearly a justice who considers how his legacy will be shaped by his votes. In 1992, when the Supreme Court was asked to overturn Roe in a case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Kennedy originally sided with the conservatives to reverse the controversial privacy decision. Like Justice Powell in Bowers, Justice Kennedy then changed his vote. He went to see Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe, and explained that he was concerned about how history would judge Kennedy’s decision to end constitutional protections for women’s right to choose.

Like many people, Justice Kennedy may believe that the public tide against marriage discrimination is growing and that gay marriage is inevitable. History is not likely to be kind to those justices who vote to continue relegating LGBT people to second-class citizenship. As the swing justice ponders how to rule in the gay-marriage cases, Justice Powell’s well-known regret over Bowers, and the widespread recognition that Bowers was wrongly decided, will almost certainly weigh on his mind.

Adam’s article is worth a full read. And I agree with it completely.

Further Reflections on the Obama Amicus Brief in Prop 8

Supreme Court CoolAfter the flurry of fast analysis on the fly, getting a post up for discussion and the crucible of discussion here and on Twitter – and a bit of sleep – I have some further thoughts on the amicus brief filed late yesterday by the Obama Administration in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

My ultimate conclusions on what the Obama amicus means and portends has not changed much, but there are several things that should be said both to explain my criticism and give a little more credit to the Administration where due. First an analogy explaining my criticism of the Obama brief.

Imagine if, when Brown v. Board of Education was being considered, the Eisenhower Administration had instructed it’s Assistant Attorney General and OLC chief, J. Lee Rankin, to amicus brief that only Kansas and a handful of other similarly situated states, but not the rest of the country where the bigotry of segregation was at its most prevalent worst, should be granted desegregation. How would history have held Mr. Eisenhower and Mr. Rankin? That is, of course, not what happened in Brown; the Eisenhower Administration filed an amicus brief demanding equality and desegregation for all citizens, in all states.

Messrs. Obama, Holder and Verrilli, however, fell short of such a demand for equality for all in the civil rights moment, the Brown v. Board, of their time. Let the record reflect they did have the courage to join the game, which is in and of itself a commendable thing, just that they did not muster the full courage to play to win for all Americans, regardless of their particular state of domicile – and especially not for those in the states with the most sexual orientation bigotry and discrimination.

In this regard, I think our friend at Daily Kos, Adam Bonin, summarized the duality of the Obama amicus quite well:

To be sure, the brief argues all the right things about why laws targeting gays should be subject to heightened scrutiny, and that none of the proffered justifications for treating their relationships differently have merit (“Reference to tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify Read more

The Obama DOJ Files a Timid Brief in Perry/Prop 8!

Picture-1The news was broken, right around 2:00 pm EST by NBC’s Pete Williams, that the Obama Administration would indeed file a brief in support of marriage equality in Hollingsworth v. Perry. Here was the original tweet by NBC’s Williams:

Obama Justice Dept to file Supreme Court amicus brief today opposing Prop 8 in Calif and expressing support for same-sex marriage to resume.

Here was Williams’ followup story at NBCNews.com. The inherent problem with the original report was that it tended to indicate the Obama Administration was briefing only on the restricted Romer v. Evans posture heinously crafted by Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the 9th Circuit.

So, we were left hanging wondering exactly how the Obama Administration really briefed the issue, was it a limited Romer brief, or one for full marriage equality and heightened scrutiny under the equal protection and due process clauses that would give all citizens, nationwide, equality as I argued for earlier this week?

We now have the answer, and the brief, and here it is the brief in all its not quite glory:

The Obama Administration has, shockingly (okay, I do not mean that in the least), tried to nuance its way and split babies. Typical cowardly bunk by Mr. Obama. Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog depicted it thusly:

The historic document, though, could give the Court a way to advance gay marriage rights, without going the full step — now being advocated by two California couples who have been challenging Proposition 8 since 2009 — of declaring that marriage should be open to all same-sex couples as a constitutional requirement.

Administration sources said that President Obama was involved directly in the government’s choice of whether to enter the case at all, and then in fashioning the argument that it should make. Having previously endorsed the general idea that same-sex individuals should be allowed to marry the person they love, the President was said to have felt an obligation to have his government take part in the fundamental test of marital rights that is posed by the Proposition 8 case. The President could take the opportunity to speak to the nation on the marriage question soon.

In essence, the position of the federal government would simultaneously give some support to marriage equality while showing some respect for the rights of states to regulate that institution. What the brief endorsed is what has been called the “eight-state solution” — that is, if a state already recognizes for same-sex couples all the privileges and benefits that married couples have (as in the eight states that do so through “civil unions”) those states must go the final step and allow those couples to get married. The argument is that it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of legal equality when both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are entitled to the same marital benefits, but only the opposite-sex couples can get married.

Honestly, I think Mr. Denniston is being kind. President Obama’s position bears the mark of a full throated coward. Clearly, when Mr. Obama said this to ABC News, he was blowing smoke up the posterior of the American public:

…obviously, my personal view, which is that I think that same-sex couples should have the same rights and be treated like everybody else. And that’s something I feel very strongly about and my administration is acting on wherever we can.

That statement would say that Obama actually supports full equal protection for ALL Americans. But the position staked out today in the Administration’s brief filed by his Solicitor General puts the lie to Obama’s rhetoric.

Mr. Obama has consistently lied about his dedication to civil liberties, privacy and the Fourth Amendment, I guess it should not be shocking that he would lie about his dedication to civil rights for all, across all the states, in the form of marriage equality. And that is exactly what he has done. And as Denniston’s article makes clear, this decision bore the active participation and decision making of Obama personally. The cowardice is his to bear personally. Thanks for the fish Mr. Obama.

That is the biggest of the Hollingsworth v. Perry briefing news today, but certainly not the entirety of it. Also filed today, among others, was a brief by a group of 14 states led by Massachusetts and New York and an interesting brief by NFL players Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo. The brief by the 14 states is helpful in the way it portrays marriage in the states, both straight and gay, and in that it, on page four, adopts the position of Olson, Boies and the Prop 8 Plaintiffs that the Supreme Court must find for full heightened scrutiny protection for sexual orientation under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. The Kluwe and Ayanbadejo brief, frankly, is not particularly helpful in that regard as it only discussed the limited Romer based finding that would leave marriage equality up to the states.

The same group of American businesses who weighed in on the DOMA cases also filed a brief today in Hollingsworth v. Perry. In a more negative development, former Solicitor Walter Dellinger also filed an amicus brief today that is literally loathsome and dangerous in it’s argument against even giving standing for appeal to the Supreme Court. Dellinger embarrassed himself, but so too did Barack Obama. Must be something in the water of centrist Democratic thought.

So, there you have it. It was a rather important, if not quite as fulfilling as should have been, day in the life of the Hollingsworth v. Perry litigation. I guess credit should be given to Mr. Obama even for weighing in at all, and undoubtedly most media and pundits will slather him with praise for just that. Somehow, I cannot. The full measure of greatness was there for the taking, and Barack Obama, Eric Holder and Donald Verrilli, Jr. whiffed at the full mark of greatness. They will be remembered for their support, and their failure to truly step up will likely dissipate with time; but let it be said here and now.

In spite of the cowardly and restrictive actions by the “liberal President Obama” the cause of true heightened scrutiny protection for ALL Americans endures and lives on. Just not with the support of the President of the United States of America. that “leader” took the cheap “states rights” cowardly way out. Let us hope Anthony M. Kennedy and the majority of the Supreme Court have higher morals and muster as men.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

Obama, Holder, Verrilli and the Mark of Civil Rights History

Leaving aside the heinous 3/5 compromise set forth by James Wilson and Roger Sherman at the founding Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, American history is marked by significant moments of dedication to civil rights for its citizens. Far from perfect, it has been a struggle and evolution. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted:

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

Which is certainly true, from the Founding Fathers, to Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, to the 19th Amendment protecting the right of women to vote, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, moments of enthusiasm, sweat, toil and, eventually, greatness mark the struggle for equality for all in the United States.

And here we are on the cusp on the next defining moment in the quest for equality for all in the US. It is not for origin, not for skin color, not for gender, but for something every bit as root fundamental, sexual identity and preference. Marriage equality, yes, but more than that, equality for all as human beings before the law and governmental function.

For all the talk of the DOMA cases, the real linchpin for the last measure of equality remains the broad mandate achievable only through Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case. The case for full equality in Hollingsworth has been made beautifully, and strongly, in the Respondent’s Brief penned by Ted Olson, David Boies, Theodore Boutrous and Jeremy Goldman.

But there is still a missing voice in the discussion, that of the United States government. The government has the voice, and spoke it loudly in the DOMA litigation, first in a policy declaration letter to Congress, then in lower court briefing and finally in Supreme Court briefing. Mr. Obama’s initial policy declaration noted that we must “suspicious of classifications based on sexual orientation” and concluded:

…that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

Indeed that is true, but it only takes the equality movement so far, it still leaves room and ability for bias against sexual orientation by individual states, most notably on the front of marriage equality, but potentially a host of other invidious modalities as well.

That is not good enough. It is time for the government, by and through the Obama Administration, to take the final step in cementing full equality for all citizens, not just as to the federal government, but as to the states as well. The government needs to file an amicus brief supporting full equality in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

Three men are in the crucible – President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. History will remember these men either way, but they have the opportunity to be remembered among the giants in civil rights history. It is a defining moment for their once and future legacy.

What a major moment in history this is, and will be, if the if the Obama Administration Solicitor General files a brief in support of full heightened scrutiny based protection for sexual orientation.

It brings to mind the scene from “Lincoln” where President Lincoln says

“Now, Now, Now”

and forces the 13th amendment through because “Now” was the moment to eradicate slavery in one fell swoop and waiting posed unconscionable risks and further damning inequality.

Such is exactly the time and place now as to the last recognized measure of fundamental equality, sexual orientation. The Perry Plaintiffs’ team has argued well in their brief for the broad principles of due process and equal protection heightened scrutiny that would resolve these issues “Now”. All the stars are aligning. Prominent Republicans have filed an amicus brief. So too a broad swath of leading American businesses. Openly gay Congress members are calling for it.

Now is the time to seize the moment and eradicate discrimination across the board against gay men and women. This is the moment for enthusiasm, and President Obama, Attorney General Holder and Solicitor General Verrilli have a historic opportunity to help make it happen. This is the moment, and they need to step up. Great men take such great steps.

The time is “Now, Now, Now”.

File the amicus brief for full equality in Hollingsworth v. Perry gentlemen.

Shorter Neal Katyal: Please Appoint Me Judge!

If it weren’t for this line, disdaining what judges do,

But judges should be left to what they know.

I would be convinced that this op-ed from Neal Katyal, arguing against a Drone and/or Targeted Killing Court, was a transparent attempt to curry favor with the man who gets to nominate people for lifetime appointments to federal courts.

Because it strikes me as a dishonest argument, one made by someone who almost surely knows better, repeating the AUMF fallacy.

But there is no true precedent for interposing courts into military decisions about who, what and when to strike militarily. Putting aside the serious constitutional implications of such a proposal, courts are simply not institutionally equipped to play such a role.

While the Bush Administration didn’t read Ted Olson into its worst OLC opinions when he was Solicitor General — and so it’s possible (though unlikely) that Katyal was likewise not read into the June 2010 opinion that authorized the CIA to kill Anwar al-Awlaki during the time he was Acting Solicitor General — he was almost certainly part of the legal strategy to respond to the ACLU/CCR suit hoping to enjoin the President from killing Awlaki unless he represented an imminent threat, which also occurred while he was Acting SG.

Neal Katyal almost certainly knows the CIA was cleared to carry out that killing (though he had left the Administration by the time Awlaki was ultimately killed), and that this was a covert op.

To argue for a star chamber within the Executive Branch, he paints the judges who serve on the FISA Court as generalists who have no clue about national security issues.

There are many reasons a drone court composed of generalist federal judges will not work. They lack national security expertise, they are not accustomed to ruling on lightning-fast timetables, they are used to being in absolute control, their primary work is on domestic matters and they usually rule on matters after the fact, not beforehand.

[snip]

What reason does the FISA Court give us to think that judges are better than specialists at keeping executive power in check?

The FISA Court includes judges like Thomas Hogan (who has been a District Court judge in DC since Katyal was 12) and is now led by Reggie Walton (who joined DC District back when President Obama was still a State Senator). While they’ve seen their share of DC drug cases, they’ve also presided over some high profile national security cases (both had a part in the Libby case, both have issued key rulings in Gitmo habeas cases).  But Katyal thinks they’re just not capable of reviewing whether an American should be killed by his government with no due process.

There’s more that’s laugh out loud funny in Katyal’s op-ed, such as the suggestion that targeted killing of an American (as far as I know, no one is even considering using a FISA process with non-citizens) presents no Constitutional issues.

Even the questions placed before the FISA Court aren’t comparable to what a drone court would face; they involve more traditional constitutional issues — not rapidly developing questions about whether to target an individual for assassination by a drone strike.

And the suggestion that the Executive can be trusted to hand over its own analysis on targeted killing to Congress.

The adjudicator would be a panel of the president’s most senior national security advisers, who would issue decisions in writing if at all possible. Those decisions would later be given to the Congressional intelligence committees for review.

Not to mention that a “court” which the President was free to overrule amounts to any kind of due process.

Crucially, the president would be able to overrule this court, and take whatever action he thought appropriate, but would have to explain himself afterward to Congress.

Mind you. I, like Katyal, think the idea of turning FISA into a Drone and/or Targeted Killing court is terrible. But I’m not arguing that’s because an actual court would infringe too much on the President’s claimed authority to kill Americans at will.

Why Should We Believe Solicitors General about Warrantless Wiretapping

I’m working on a longer post about the arguments in Amnesty v. Clapper today.

But I wanted to point to this passage from the transcript, in which Solicitor General Don Verrilli responded to Justice Ginsburg’s suggestion that the FISA Court didn’t exercise very rigorous oversight, given that it had only ever rejected one application.

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Is there much of a speculation involved in how — I think it’s only one time, and it was under the pre-amended statute, that the FISA court ever turned down an application

GENERAL VERRILLI: Yes, but that, Your Honor, is, I think, not a fair assessment of the process. It’s really very much an iterative process in which there’s a dialogue between the executive branch and the FISA court in which the court can demand more information, raise objections. Those get worked out, and then there’s a final order.

So I don’t think it’s fair to infer from the fact that there’s only one rejection that this — that it’s a process that isn’t rigorous.

But there was evidence in the court room today to show how false such assurances are.

You see, Ted Olson was in the room. He was there to argue a copyright case heard just after Amensty v. Clapper. And as I have noted before, the government actually sent Olson–back when he was Solicitor General–to argue before the FISA Court of Review without disclosing the warrantless wiretapping program to him. He made a number of claims about how “lawful” the government’s activities were when, in fact, they weren’t.

Given that the government has lied to FISCR before, and given that Solicitors General apparently don’t get briefed on what the government does with warrantless wiretapping, is there any reason we should believe this Solicitor General about the FISA Court’s oversight?

Prop 8 Appeal Takes A Step Forward; But Not The Big One It Should Have

Liberty & Justice by Mirko Ilic

Those of us watching and covering the Proposition 8 case, formally known as Perry v. Brown, got a cryptic notification from the court yesterday afternoon. The notice read:

This is to inform you that a filing is expected on Tuesday, June 5, 2012, at approximately 10 a.m., in Perry v. Brown, case 11-16577, also know as the Proposition 8 case. The filing will be available from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals website, www.ca9.uscourts.gov/opinions. We are advised that this is not a large document. If you have difficulty downloading the filing, please contact us by email.

The fact the court said the document would appear in their “opinions” section seemed prophetic. It was. The opinion was just released and my prediction on it was right, it did signal a final opinion and a declination of en banc consideration.

Here is the order. The key takeaway language:

The full court was advised of the petition for rehearing en banc. A judge requested a vote on whether to rehear the matter en banc. The matter failed to receive a majority of the votes of the non-recused active judges in favor of en banc consideration. Fed. R. App. P. 35. The petition for rehearing en banc is DENIED.

The mandate is stayed for ninety days pending the filing of a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court. If such a petition is filed, the stay shall continue until final disposition by the Supreme Court.

Notable is the sniping dissent lodged by Judges O’Scannlain, Bybee and Bea, and the broadside shot right back by Steve Reinhardt and Mike Hawkins, who were the accused when O’Scannlain said:

Based on a two-judge majority’s gross misapplication of Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), we have now declared that animus must have been the only conceivable motivation for a sovereign State to have remained committed to a definition of marriage that has existed for millennia, Perry v. Brown, 671 F.3d 1052, 1082 (9th Cir. 2012).

Interesting is the sniping back and forth, but ultimately of no moment. The ruling today is important, however, because the ultimate destination for the Prop 8 Perry case is now straight to the Supreme Court. As I explained when the original panel decision was issued, authored by Steve Reinhardt, it was different than expected:

It is a narrower and shallower victory than I had hoped and predicted though.

All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of ‘marriage,’ which symbolizes state legitimization and social recognition of their committed relationships. Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those opposite-sex couples. the Constitution simply does not allow for “laws of this sort.” Romer v. Evans, 517 US 620, 633 (1996).

By basing on Romer instead of the full constitutional protections of due process and equal protection, the court has likely increased the odds the decision stands up to further appeal, but has done a disservice to those seeking true equality, both as to marriage and otherwise, for gays and lesbians. In short, it does not move the ball nearly as much as it should have, and was hoped for. The decision of the 9th does not go nearly as far as Vaughn Walker did, and wastes much of the meticulous taking of evidence, making of findings of facts and law, and crafting of his decision. It was hand tailored to go MUCH further, and that now appears at least significantly squandered.

That analysis of the panel decision in Perry still stands. The bigger problem is that many experts on this issue have been putting their eggs in the basket of the DOMA litigations. And the problem with that is that the biggest of the DOMA cases just got decided in the 1st Circuit last week, and it too is grounded on Romer and is painfully narrow and depressing as to hope for full extension of protected status to sexual orientation by individuals.

As Reuters explains:

“The federalism aspect of the decision makes it a stronger case to bring some conservatives along,” said Paul Smith, a lawyer for the same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court has become increasingly concerned with states’ rights over the past 10 years, striking down numerous federal laws that intrude on state authority, said New York Law School professor Arthur Leonard. The conservative justices have tended to defend traditional areas of state control. Justice Antonin Scalia, for example, criticized the majority decision in Romer for creating a new level of equal protection for gays and lesbians, but he based his argument on a defense of states’ rights.

The DOMA litigation is clearly presented as a battle between federal and state powers. The plaintiffs only challenged the law’s central provision that denies federal economic benefits to married same-sex couples. They left alone the part of the law that says a state doesn’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

While the focus on states’ rights could lead the Supreme Court to strike down DOMA, it could also make it more difficult for gay rights advocates to achieve their ultimate goal: making same-sex marriage a federal constitutional right.

The focus on federalism could also undercut arguments against state laws like Proposition 8 that ban same-sex marriage. Schowengerdt, the lawyer from the Alliance Defense Fund who is currently defending gay marriage bans in Hawaii and Oklahoma, said he plans to cite the recent Massachusetts ruling to support his position that the definition of marriage should be left up to the states.

He pointed out that 31 states had passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman. “At the end of the day, federalism helps proponents of traditional marriage,” he said.

By having both Perry and the 1st Circuit DOMA rely on the Romer paradigm, the main thrust of LGBT litigation is now set up under a states rights analysis as opposed to full equal protection status across the board and uniformly nationwide.

While many of the experts, pundits and lay people closely watching these cases may be cheering today, it seems a tad hollow. This is not the posture that Vaughn Walker worked so hard to put in place, the posture that the affected citizens deserve.

[The absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]