One day after it issued major decisions in marriage equality cases, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday announced it won’t hear an appeal from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) asking the justices to allow to her bar state employees from receiving benefits for same-sex partners.
In an orders list published Thursday, the court indicated it won’t take up Brewer’s petition, which sought to overturn a district court injunction barring her from enforcing a portion of 2009 budget law that stripped away health benefits for state employees with same-sex partners.
Tara Borelli, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said the decision means Arizona state employees with same-sex partners can rest assured their health coverage will continue as the case proceeds.
“Arizona has tried everything it can to eliminate this coverage,” Borelli said. “But it has no more cards to play in this round. It’s time to go back to the trial court so that we can get a final ruling to assure these employees that they will not be denied the equal pay for equal work they deserve.”
After Brewer signed the budget in 2009, Lambda Legal filed a complaint on behalf of seven plaintiff couples contesting the removal of benefits on the basis that it violates equal protections and due process protections under the 14th Amendment.
U.S. District Court Judge Sedwick issued a preliminary injunction barring Arizona from taking away these benefits, which Brewer appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
The decision by the Supreme Court on Thursday not to hear the case means the litigation will continue to proceed through judicial process, starting again with the district court.
Brewer in a statement decried the court’s decision not to take up the appeal as a breach of state authority that undercuts officials in making decisions regarding the state budget.
“In terminating domestic-partner benefits for state employees of every sexual orientation, the action I took with the Legislature was driven by financial necessity rather than a social agenda,” Brewer said. “This was a common sense step to get a grasp on Arizona’s tattered State finances.”
Considering straight state employees would receive health benefits through marriage as opposed to domestic partnerships, the move against domestic partner benefits is seen as targeting gay employees.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the court’s decisions are serving as a reminder that equal marriage rights still aren’t available to many same-sex couples throughout the nation.
“Today’s order brings Arizonans a step closer to enjoying the equality that all Americans deserve and that we are all committed to ensuring for everyone, everywhere,” Griffin said.
Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court announced it wouldn’t hear an early appeal of a U.S. district court ruling in Nevada against same-sex marriage in the case of Sevcik v. Sandoval, which was also filed by Lambda Legal.
Anti-gay groups had appealed the case to the Supreme Court when it was considering whether to take up marriage equality. Now that the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case, it will proceed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.