[JURIST] Three briefs on the merits were filed with the US Supreme Court [official website] in the case US v. Windsor [docket; JURIST report] on Friday on the issues of the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive] and of whether the Court even has the authority to decide such a question. The Obama Administration filed a brief [PDF] arguing that DOMA violates the constitutional guarantees to equal protection of the laws, which applies to the federal government pursuant to the Due Process Clause [LII backgrounder] of the Fifth Amendment [text]. Respondent Edith Windsor [ACLU backgrounder], who is challenging the law’s constitutionality, also filed a brief [PDF] arguing that the Executive Branch’s agreement that DOMA should be found unconstitutional does not deprive the Court of jurisdiction to decide the issue. Republican leaders from the House of Representatives [official website], who are defending the law’s constitutionality, filed a brief [PDF] supporting Windor’s assertion of jurisdiction, and adding that the House has standing to defend a statute against constitutional challenge when the Executive Branch refuses to do so. The Court is set to hear oral arguments in this case in March.
Windsor is a widow who had a legal same-sex marriage under Canada and New York law, but was denied spousal deduction for federal estate taxes when her wife died. Prior to her challenge, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced that it would no longer defend DOMA in courts and, in response, members of the House formed [JURIST reports] the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) to defend the law. In July,132 members of the House who support the law’s constitutionality filed an amicus brief [JURIST report] in another case arguing that statutory classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened judicial scrutiny and that DOMA should be overturned as unconstitutional under any level of judicial scrutiny. The brief was filed in the appeal of Karen Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, the landmark case in which the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional [JURIST report]. In June, 10 US senators filed their own amicus brief in the case, arguing in the opposite [JURIST report] that the federal government had a legitimate interest in creating a uniform federal definition of marriage to “[avoid] massive legal uncertainty.”