House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) attorneys on Friday formally appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court an appeals court decision determining the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.
Drew Hammill, spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), told the Washington Blade on Friday afternoon Republicans had notified Democratic leadership that House counsel filed an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The court ruling that was appealed was the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the cases of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, which was filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services. On May 31, the appellate court issued a decision that Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, was unconstitutional as a result of both cases.
In a statement, Pelosi slammed Boehner for continuing to assert the constitutionality of DOMA, saying the appeal is a decision that will “waste more taxpayer funds to advance a position rejected by four different courts and to defend discrimination and inequality before the highest court in the land.”
“Democrats have rejected the Republican assault on equal rights, in the courts and in Congress,” Pelosi said. “We believe there is no federal interest in denying LGBT couples the same rights and responsibilities afforded to all couples married under state law. And we are confident that the Supreme Court, if it considers the case, will declare DOMA unconstitutional and relegate it to the dustbin of history once and for all.”
Boehner’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the appeal.
In the filing, Boehner’s attorneys present two questions to the Supreme Court: (1) Whether Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment; and (2) Whether the court below erred by inventing and applying to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act a previously unknown standard of equal protection review.
“As the First Circuit recognized, this case calls out for this Court’s review,” the filing states. “The court of appeals has invalidated a duly-enacted Act of Congress and done so even though it acknowledged both that DOMA satisfies ordinary rational basis review and does not implicate heightened scrutiny. In the established world of equal protection law that result should have been impossible.”
The filing also cites a separation of powers issue as the result of the Obama administration no longer defending DOMA in court as it continues to enforce it and leaves the House to defend the law.
“Only this Court can settle this matter definitively,” the filing states. “Unless and until this Court decides the question, the executive branch will continue to attack DOMA in the courts, while continuing to enforce it, thus creating more potential litigation for the House to defend. This Court and this Court alone has the power to settle this question and redirect controversy over this important national question to the democratic process.”
Additionally, the filing argues the First Circuit ruling conflicts with Baker v. Nelson, a case related to same-sex marriage that the Supreme Court declined to hear in 1972.
Now that Boehner’s attorneys have filed an appeal, there will be 30 days for plaintiffs to file an opposition to the motion. It would then be left to the court to decide whether to grant cert, or hear the case. There isn’t a timeline for that, but it won’t happen while the court is in summer recess.
LGBT advocates also had harsh words for Boehner over his continued defense of DOMA.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, called Boehner’s appeal “shameful” and said it’s time for him to “respect basic American values of equal protection under the law.”
“Same-sex couples have waited long enough for the federal government to treat their lawful marriages with the respect and fairness every American wants and deserves, especially in tough economic times,” Wolfson said. “Judges appointed by Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, ‘Bush 1,’ and ‘Bush 2,’ among others, have all agreed that there should be no ‘gay exception’ to the normal practice of the federal government honoring the marriages celebrated in the states, and providing the 1138-plus federal protections and responsibilities accorded all other married couples.”
In February 2011, the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend DOMA in court. After the decision, Boehner convened the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which voted 3-2 on a party-line basis to take up defense of DOMA in the administration’s stead.
To assist House general counsel Kerry Kircher in defending DOMA, Boehner hired Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush. The cost cap to pay for House expenses in defending the law was set at $1.5 million.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has filed legal briefs in favor of lawsuits against DOMA and sent Stuart Delery, who’s gay and the Justice Department’s acting assistant attorney general for the civil division, to make the case against the law in oral arguments.
Six federal courts have found that DOMA is unconstitutional as a result of cases filed by LGBT advocates. The ruling against DOMA in the First Circuit was the highest court to date to weigh in against the anti-gay law.
A White House spokesperson deferred comment to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.
NOTE: This article has been updated