February 10, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Nevada AG will no longer defend marriage ban in court
Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto, gay news, Washington Blade

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto withdrew her brief in favor of the ban on same-sex marriage (Photo public domain).

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto announced on Monday she has sought to withdraw her earlier legal brief that argued against marriage equality — an action one advocate says indicates she’ll no longer defend in court her state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Masto, a Democrat, said she wants to withdraw her brief — which stirred controversy because it invoked bigamy and incest while defending Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage — based on a related case decided by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that determined jurors should not face discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“After thoughtful review and analysis, the State has determined that its arguments grounded upon equal protection and due process are no longer sustainable,” Masto said. “Additionally, the legal evolution referenced by SmithKline is undeniably a ‘doctrinal development’ that vitiates the State’s position. Thus not only is the State’s equal protection argument undermined, so is its Baker v. Nelson argument.”

Masto had previously indicated that he was reconsidering her position on the Nevada marriage lawsuit, which is currently before the Ninth Circuit, in the days after her initial filing based on the SmithKline ruling.

She had filed her brief before the court on the same day it rendered its decision in SmithKline v. Abbott, which determined laws in the Ninth Circuit related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption they’re unconstitutional. That ruling established precedent in the Ninth Circuit that will likely lead to marriage bans being struck down within that jurisdiction.

The case in which Masto withdrew her filing is known as Sevcik v. Sandoval, which was filed in 2012 by Lambda Legal and other legal firms on behalf of eight same-sex couples.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said the decision means that Masto will no longer defend the marriage ban in court in the same way that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is not defending a similar ban in his state.

An LGBT advocate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Masto’s position isn’t quite the same as Herring’s, but, in practice, it ends up being about the same position.

In the nine-page motion to withdraw, Masto walks through her logic in why the brief she previously submitted no longer holds up.

“SmithKline’s holding sets a new standard of review for cases in the Ninth Circuit,” Masto writes. “Because the State’s argument was grounded upon equal protection and relied on High Tech, and thus was constructed upon the premise that only rational basis review applied to laws categorizing on the basis of sexual orientation, the State’s argument cannot withstand legal scrutiny.”

The earlier brief cited as precedent Baker v. Nelson, a marriage case in the 1970′s that the U.S. Supreme Court refuse to hear for lack of federal question, and an earlier ruling by a federal judge in Nevada upholding the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. But with the more recent ruling in the gay juror case, Masto writes “both of these holdings have been vitiated.”

Masto’s request to withdraw her brief follows the earlier decision by Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover to withdraw his brief, which was also motivated by the Ninth Circuit ruling in SmithKline.

Tara Borelli, a staff attorney at Lambda Lambda, praised Masto and Gov. Brian Sandoval for withdrawing their earlier brief in favor of the ban on same-sex marriage.

“In the wake of the Ninth Circuit ruling in SmithKline Beecham v. Abbott Laboratories, the Governor has recognized that the writing is on the wall, and that arguments seeking to perpetuate discrimination are becoming extremely difficult to justify,” Borelli said. “Denying marriage to same-sex couples serves no legitimate state interest and is intended solely to perpetuate discrimination.”

Derek Washington, lead organizer for GetEQUAL Nevada, said more action is needed from Masto after her initial brief invoking bigamy and incest.

“While we applaud the Attorney General for hearing the voices of Nevadans who let her know — loud and clear — that hatred and disrespect would not be tolerated in our state, we stand firm in demanding an apology for her past comments and have requested a face-to-face meeting between the Attorney General and LGBTQ community leaders immediately,” Washington said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this posting indicated Masto has withdrawn from the case. She cannot do so without the court’s permission.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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