Update: SCOTUSblog tells us five opinions were released, none related to the same-sex marriage cases. Decisions on major cases on affirmative action and voting rights were also not issued. The court did strike down an Arizona law requiring proof of U.S. citizenship before registering to vote through a federal “motor voter” registration form.
The court now has 14 outstanding cases to decide. Next scheduled release date is Thursday.
So why is it taking so long? At least seven cases that already have been decided were argued after the Prop. 8 and DOMA cases, and the affirmative action case was heard way back in October. Here’s an answer from one of the SCOTUSblog experts, lawyer Amy Howe:
“I think it’s just all about when they have the opinions ready. These are big, historic cases that we’re talking about, and there are likely to be multiple opinions. I was talking to someone who clerked at the court, and he said last year that even if health care had been argued on the first day of the term, it still would have gone to the last day.”
We know there’s intense interest in the impending Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act opinions by the U.S. Supreme Court, so we’ve been up tracking the court’s release of its opinions each day that happens this month. Though, as inveterate court watchers have said throughout, the most likely scenario is SCOTUS drags these two out until the very end and releases them at the end of the month.
7 a.m. PT is when the court starts disseminating the day’s opinions. As usual, we point you to SCOTUSblog, which is live blogging all the decisions released. Per SCOTUSblog, there are 19 undecided cases from this term.
Prop. 8, of course, is California’s same-sex marriage ban that was struck down on narrow grounds by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Should SCOTUS uphold that decision, same-sex marriages could begin again in California in mid- to-late July, according to San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office. (San Francisco was an intervenor in the case on the plaintiff’s side.) If the court uses the case to issue a more sweeping ruling that all same-sex marriage bans are illegal, that would effectively legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country.
UC Davis law professor Vikram Amar told KQED’s Scott Shafer last week that a broad decision declaring a fundamental, nationwide right to same-sex marriage is highly unlikely.
“It’s very rare for the court to invalidate the laws of two-thirds or three-quarters of the states,” Amar said. He noted that when bans on interracial marriage were struck down in 1967, only 16 states had such laws — compared with 35 that now ban gay marriage.
Also from that report by Scott Shafer:
At oral arguments in March, there seemed to be little appetite – even among the most liberal justices — for a momentous decision in support of gay marriage.
And there are two ways for the court to avoid that legal question altogether. They could simply dismiss the case, allowing the 9th U.S. Circuit Court decision to stand. (In fact, during oral arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy mused, “I just wonder if the case was properly granted.”)
Or, more likely, Amar said, the court will declare that Prop. 8 proponents lacked legal standing to appeal Judge Walker’s decision.
“If the case is decided on standing grounds, the thing we should focus on right away is what, if anything, the court says about the follow-on process,” Amar said.
It should also be noted that even in a worst-case scenario for those who support same-sex marriage — that the court overturns the 9th Circuit’s decision and upholds Proposition 8 — a substantial majority of Californians now support LGBT couples’ right to marry, a political turnabout that is sure to lead to a proposition being put on the ballot to once again legalize same-sex marriage.
DOMA is a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as between only a man and a woman. It prevents those who are in same-sex marriages from receiving a host of federal benefits, such as the ability to file a joint tax return. In the case before the court, a widow was forced to pay $363,000 in inheritance taxes after her female spouse died, a liability she would not have incurred if she’d been married to a man. A federal appeals court ruled that provision of DOMA was unconstitutional. Another provision, requiring states to recognize only opposite-sex marriages performed in other states, is not at issue here.