White House Press Secretary Jay Carney continues to stay mum on whether the Obama administration will participate before the Feb. 28 deadline in pending litigation before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.
Asked on Tuesday by NBC News’ Peter Alexander if the White House would “publicly advocate” against Proposition 8 — as well as the right for same-sex couples to have federal benefits precluded under the Defense of Marriage Act — Carney deferred comment to the Justice Department while reiterating the Obama’s previous action against DOMA.
“For comment on specific Supreme Court cases, I would point you to the Department of Justice,” Carney said. “On the issue of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, the administration’s position on this is well known, and has been. And that’s the President has determined that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional and that his administration will no longer defend equal protection challenges against it in the courts, and the DOJ has participated in the DOMA cases consistent with that position and asked the Supreme Court to resolve the question. So that is the DOMA issue.”
Carney had fewer words in regards in the lawsuit against Prop 8, saying, “On Prop 8, the administration is not a party to that case, and I have nothing for you on that.” Pressed for more information by NBC News, Carney reiterated he has no information.
In 2011, the Obama administration stood down from defending DOMA in court. Since that time, the Justice Department has filed legal briefs against the law and sent Justice Department attorneys to litigate against the statute in oral arguments before various federal courts.
The same isn’t true for Prop 8. While President Obama came out for marriage equality last year — and during his 2008 presidential campaign called Prop 8 “unnecessary” — the administration hasn’t yet taken a position on the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, or whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond on Tuesday to the Washington Blade’s request for an update whether the Obama administration will participate in the Prop 8 litigation. Like the White House, the Justice Department has previously stated the administration isn’t a party to the case and is withholding comment.
Rick Jacobs, chair of the California progressive grassroots group known as the Courage Campaign, renewed on Tuesday his call for the Obama administration to speak out against the constitutionality of Prop 8. His group has launched an online petition calling for action, which the organization says has more than 15,000 signatures.
“The time has come for the President to put the weight of his Administration behind the Supreme Court’s consideration of Prop 8,” Jacobs said. “The Justices and the nation need to hear from the Executive Branch that it supports the rulings of the district and appellate courts, stating clearly that President Obama and his Administration officially oppose Prop 8.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court announced it would hear oral arguments in the Prop 8 lawsuit, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, on March 26, and for DOMA lawsuit, known as Windsor v. United States, on March 27. Under the rules of the court, as pointed out by Prop 8 Trial Tracker, the deadline for the Obama administration to submit a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court against Prop 8 is Feb. 28.
Other LGBT groups — ranging from the Human Rights Campaign to Lambda Legal — have called on the Obama administration to take part in the lawsuit by filing a friend-of-the-court brief against the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and to assert a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry. Ted Olson, one of the co-counsels in the Prop 8 case, said intervention from the Obama administration would have “great effect” in the lawsuit.
Carney has repeatedly declined to comment on the Prop 8 case. He refused comment when asked by the Washington Blade about it in September, and again days after the Supreme Court in December agreed to take up the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban.
In an interview last month with “Time” Magazine, Obama withheld comment on the Prop 8 case, saying “And I think the Prop 8 case, because the briefs are still being written, I should probably be careful about making any specific comments on it.”
The transcript between NBC News and Carney follows:
NBC News: We hear within the last year that the President says he supports gay marriage. He said at that time that that issue would be worked out at the local level. But given the fact that the Supreme Court has now said that it will hear arguments just two months from now in March, should we expect the President to publicly advocate against Proposition 8, and would he also advocate for same-sex couples to have the right to federal benefits?
Jay Carney: Well, let’s be clear about a couple of things. For comment on specific Supreme Court cases, I would point you to the Department of Justice. On the issue of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, the administration’s position on this is well known, and has been. And that’s the President has determined that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional and that his administration will no longer defend equal protection challenges against it in the courts, and the DOJ has participated in the DOMA cases consistent with that position and asked the Supreme Court to resolve the question. So that is the DOMA issue. On Prop 8, the administration is not a party to that case, and I have nothing for you on that.
NBC News: Whether he would seek out —
Carney: Again, I have nothing for you on that.