Attorneys representing House Republicans in litigation against the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court are asserting that the Justice Department lacks standing to participate in the lawsuit.
The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, under the direction of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, makes the argument in a 38-page brief filed on Friday in response to the court’s jurisdictional questions on standing in the challenge to Section 3 of DOMA, known as Windsor v. United States.
BLAG argues the Justice Department lacks standing because the Obama administration received the result it wanted from lower courts — including the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals — striking down DOMA.
“It obtained the precise relief it believed was appropriate based on the precise theory (heightened scrutiny) it advocated,” the brief states. “The executive can fare no better before this Court. While this Court’s affirmance would have a greater precedential impact, the executive cannot ground its appellate standing on a desire for an opinion with the identical effect on this case and controversy, but a broader precedential scope for other cases.”
The brief is signed by private attorney Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general hired at $520 an hour to defend DOMA, and House General Counsel Kerry Kircher, among other lawyers.
But BLAG contends the court can nonetheless hear the case because it has standing to defend DOMA now that the Obama administration has declined to continue defending it.
“Indeed, without the House’s participation, it is hard to see how there is any case or controversy here at all,” the brief states. “Both Ms. Windsor and the executive agree that DOMA is unconstitutional and that Ms. Windsor was entitled to a refund. And the lower courts granted them all the relief they requested. Only the House’s intervention provides the adverseness that Article III demands.”
The Obama administratio discontinued defense of DOMA in court in February 2011 and since that time has filed briefs against the anti-gay law and litigated against it in oral arguments. House Republicans have taken up defense of the law in the administration’s stead following a 3-2 party line in BLAG.
In the brief, the committee also invokes as a source of its standing the rules passed at the start of the 113th Congress by the Republican-controlled House giving authority to the committee to speak for the House against DOMA. The rules were approved by a vote of 228-196.
Notably, the brief in a footnote asserts the House Democrats also believe that BLAG has standing to defend DOMA, even though they oppose House Republican intervention in the lawsuit.
“While the Democratic Leader and the Democratic Whip have declined to support the position taken by the Group on the merits of DOMA Section 3’s constitutionality in this and other cases, they support the Group’s Article III standing,” the brief states.
Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said the case against DOMA should indeed proceed on the merits regardless of who has standing in the lawsuit.
“We believe that the case should proceed to the merits, regardless of who has standing, and that the Supreme Court should rule DOMA unconstitutional once and for all,” Hammill said.
The BLAG brief was but one that was filed on Friday in response to jurisdictional questions in the DOMA case. In another 39-page brief, the ACLU asserts that the Supreme Court has standing to hear the case because a “controversy” remains in the case; existing law and appellate practice affirm the court has jurisdiction; and practice concerns favor the court exercising jurisdiction.
“[L]eaving DOMA’s constitutionality to the courts of appeals poses its own set of problems for married gay couples,” the brief states. “It may well take years for ‘a uniform rule’ to emerge. … And absent this Court’s intervention, uniformity may never come. In the meantime, married gay couples will continue to be denied equality under the law and essential government benefits that all other married couples can depend on.”
The ACLU also veers away from a position on whether BLAG has standing in the case — saying it at most can be an intervenor or have “piggyback” standing in the lawsuit — but maintains the court has jurisdiction to hear the case regardless of whether BLAG has standing.
“Whether BLAG would have had independent Article III standing if the United States had not petitioned for certiorari is a counterfactual question that this Court need not answer,” the brief states. “Indeed, because of controlling Second Circuit precedent, neither court below found it necessary to resolve the nature of BLAG’s standing.”
The brief is signed by attorneys that include private attorney Roberta Kaplan, who’s slated to deliver oral arguments against DOMA before the Supreme Court on March 27, as well as James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT Project.
The court hired Vicki Jackson, a Harvard law professor, to argue that neither the Justice Department nor BLAG have standing to participate in the DOMA case. In a brief filed last month, she contended the Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case.
The Justice Department was due on Friday to file its own brief on the jurisdictional questions presented by the court and another brief on the constitutionality. The brief wasn’t available as of this posting.
After those briefs, the next step in the lawsuit is for the ACLU to file its brief on the merits against the constitutionality of DOMA, which is due on Tuesday. Oral arguments in the DOMA case are set for March 27.