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Supreme Court Briefs - United States v. Windsor

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November 11 2017

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Check out Tristan's video here: Want a specific SCOTUS case covered? Your idea gets picked when you donate on Patreon: Mr. Beat's band: Mr. Beat on Twitter: In episode 21 of Supreme Court Briefs, two women get married in Canada, but the United States federal government does not legally recognize it thanks to a law called the Defense of Marriage Act. Produced by Matt Beat. Music by Jermaine Hysten. All images found in public domain or used under fair use guidelines. Click here for cool primary sources: Other sources used: Toronto, Canada May 2007 After being in a relationship together for 44 years, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer get married. In Canada, same-sex marriage is legal. However, in New York City, where Edie and Thea live, it is not. In fact, at the time the United States had a law called the Defense of Marriage Act, aka DOMA, which defined (marriage Princess Bride clip) as the union of one man and one woman. That law also said states didn’t have to recognize same-sex marriages that were granted in other states. So even when the state of New York recognized their marriage the next year, the federal government did not. Thea died in 2009, leaving her estate to Edie Windsor. Windsor tried to get the federal estate tax exemption since she was a surviving spouse. However, she couldn’t due to DOMA, which said this exemption didn’t apply to same-sex marriage. Everyone’s favorite organization, the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, denied Windsor’s claim, and said she had to pay more than $363,000 in estate taxes. Well, she did pay it, but on November 9, 2010, Windsor sued the federal government seeking a refund saying this was discrimination and that DOMA was unconstitutional. While the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York was looking at the case, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would not defend the constitutionality of the part of DOMA that applied to Windsor’s case. Despite this momentum for Windsor, she faced opposition from Paul Clement and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, or BLAG, who stepped in to defend DOMA. On June 6, 2012, Judge Barbara Jones declared Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional as it went against the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Jones ordered a tax refund, including interest, for Windsor. The Department of Justice appeared to want to allow this case to become the law of the land and seemed to predict that this would happen, which may explain why it allowed an appeal from Clement and BLAG. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with the lower court. Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote, "Our straightforward legal analysis sidesteps the fair point that same-sex marriage is unknown to history and tradition, but law (federal or state) is not concerned with holy matrimony. Government deals with marriage as a civil status—however fundamental—and New York has elected to extend that status to same-sex couples." But the Justice Department wasn’t done yet. It wrote the Supreme Court, seeking judicial review of the decisions of both the District Court and Appellate Court. BLAG also petitioned the Supreme Court to review it. Well, obviously, the Court agreed to take on the case (After all this is an episode of SUPREME COURT BRIEFS, isn’t it), and they heard oral arguments on March 27, 2013. On June 26, 2013, they announced their decision, voting 5-4 in favor of Windsor. The Court held that Section 3 of DOMA, the one that said marriages could only be between men and women, was unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Basically, they argued the Constitution said the federal government couldn’t step in to treat state-sanctioned marriages between men and women differently than state-sanctioned marriages between those of the same gender. Justice Anthony Kennedy was pretty much the swing vote on this. Many were not sure where the conservative leaning justice would stand on such a socially liberal issue. Oh did the Court talk trash about DOMA. They wrote, “DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects.”

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