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House Dems intercede on behalf of N.Y. widow against DOMA

Record number of lawmakers sign brief against anti-gay law

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi leads a group of 145 House Democrats expecting to file a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Edie Windsor case. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

House Democrats are yet again interceding on behalf of litigation challenging the Defense of Marriage Act — this time as one of 15 parties expected to file legal briefs before an appellate court in a case involving a lesbian New York widower.

A group of 145 House Democrats — led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) — were expected to file a friend-of-court brief on Friday in the case of Windsor V. United States, which is pending before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other legal groups, is 83-year-old Edie Windsor, who was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes upon the death in 2009 of her spouse Thea Spyer because of Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The couple first met in 1963, but married in 2007 in Canada after an engagement that lasted more than 40 years.

The 30-page brief lays out the case why DOMA should be stricken down as unconstitutional, arguing Congress passed DOMA in 1996 out of animus toward gay people.

Additionally, the brief says DOMA unfairly imposes estate taxes upon married same-sex couples, saying “it is impossible to believe that any legitimate federal interest is rationally served by depriving a widow like [Edie] Windsor of the marital deduction that allows married couples to pass property to the surviving spouse without penalty, thus maximizing the survivor’s financial well-being.”

It’s not the first time House Democrats filed a legal brief in favor of litigation challenging DOMA. Democrats also filed a legal brief before the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in the consolidated case of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services as well as before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Golinksi v. Office of Personnel Management.

However more have signed today’s brief than ever before. The new 13 signers who didn’t pen their name to the last brief are Reps. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), John Carney, Jr., (D-Del.), Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), Al Green (D-Texas), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Bill Pascrell, Jr., (D-N.J.), Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), Silvesre Reyes (D-Texas), Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) and Albio Sires (D-N.J.).

Other signers are House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), and the four openly gay members of Congress: Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.).

The House Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, under the direction of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), appealed the lawsuit to the Second Circuit after the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of Windsor and against DOMA. Oral arguments are set for  September 27. It’s unclear whether any friend-of-the-court briefs will be filed on their behalf.

Other groups that are expected to file friend-of-the-court briefs in favor of Windsor are local governments, including New York City and the States of New York, Connecticut and Vermont; the Partnership for New York City — a group of CEOs from New York City businesses — the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Bar associations, labor unions and civil rights, religious, cultural and LGBT organizations; Social workers and national mental health and medical organizations; and professors of U.S. history, family law, and family and child welfare law.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, had particular praise for the briefs that were filed by the State of New York and New York City — both of which are the jurisdictions in which Windsor resides.

“New York is home to more married same-sex couples than any other state,” Lieberman said. “It only makes sense that our state and local governments would join the dozens of other groups supporting this case. No committed family should be relegated to second-class status.”

The ACLU has asked the Supreme Court to take up the case before the Second Circuit makes its decision on the lawsuit, but the friend-of-the-court briefs that were expected on Friday were delivered to the lower court where the case currently stands. The Supreme Court may decide to take up the lawsuit after the justices return from summer recess.

James Esseks, director of the ACLU LGBT Project, said the number of parties who have filed briefs on behalf of Edie Windsor demonstrates the extent to which DOMA harms married same-sex couples.

“The number and scope of the parties supporting Edie’s case illustrate the breadth of the harms that DOMA inflicts on married same-sex couples,” Esseks said. “It is time for the courts to bring an end to this discriminatory law once and for all.”

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Federal Government

Nonbinary Energy Department official charged with second luggage theft

Sam Brinton placed on administrative leave after first allegation

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Sam Brinton (Photo courtesy of Sam Brinton)

Sam Brinton, the first openly genderfluid person appointed to a senior government post, was served with a felony arrest warrant Friday following a second incident in which they were accused of stealing luggage from an airport.

New charges accuse Brinton of grand larceny of property valued between $1,200 and $5,000, for stealing luggage at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. They were previously charged with a felony for lifting a suitcase from baggage claim at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Sept. 16.

Brinton joined the U.S. Department of Energy this year as deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition. The New York Post reported they were put on leave following the first incident.

“The Department of Energy takes criminal charges against DOE employees and clearance holders very seriously,” a Department of Energy spokesperson told the Washington Blade in a statement. “Sam Brinton, a career civil servant, is on administrative leave. The department is limited by law on what it can disclose on personnel matters, such as an employee’s clearance status. Generally, as the department has previously stated, if a DOE clearance holder is charged with a crime, the case would be immediately considered by DOE personnel security officials, and depending on the circumstances, that review could result in suspension or revocation of the clearance.”

On Dec. 7, a group of 16 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, including far-right Congress members Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (Texas), called on Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to demand Brinton’s resignation.

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Congress

Sen. Sinema changes party affiliation from Democrat to independent

Lawmaker made history in 2018, becoming first bi member to serve in Senate

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said during an interview with POLITICO on Friday that she will switch her party affiliation from Democrat to independent but pledged not to change the way she has voted over the past four years in the Senate.

Sinema’s announcement comes just two days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia prevailed in a runoff election against Republican challenger Herschel Walker, widening Democrats’ razor thin majority in the upper chamber.

“I don’t anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” Sinema told POLITICO. “I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement on her decision:

“Senator Sinema has been a key partner on some of the historic legislation President Biden has championed over the last 20 months, from the American Rescue Plan to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, from the Inflation Reduction Act to the CHIPS and Science Act, from the PACT Act to the Gun Safety Act to the Respect for Marriage Act, and more.

“We understand that her decision to register as an independent in Arizona does not change the new Democratic majority control of the Senate, and we have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her.”

Sinema’s reputation as an iconoclast has occasionally frustrated her Democratic colleagues in the chamber as well as progressives more broadly. Critics were puzzled by what they saw as the Arizona Senator’s fealty to multinational pharmaceutical companies, hedge funds, and venture capital firms.

More recently, however, Sinema was credited for her instrumental work earning her GOP colleagues’ support for the Respect for Marriage Act, which earned a filibuster proof majority and is now on its way to be signed into law.

Sinema made history with her election to the Senate in 2018, becoming the first bisexual and second LGBTQ person (behind Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin) to serve in the upper chamber.

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National

Brittney Griner returns to U.S.

WNBA star released in exchange for Russian arms dealer

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Brittney Griner before she left Moscow on Dec. 8, 2022. (Screen capture via Russian State Media)

WNBA star Brittney Griner returned to the U.S. on Friday after Russia released her in exchange for a convicted arms dealer.

Griner landed at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio at around 5:30 a.m. ET. 

Media reports indicate Griner then went to the U.S. Army’s Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. They also said she will undergo a medical examination at the Brooke Army Medical Center.

“So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil,” tweeted “Welcome home BG.”

Griner had been serving a nine-year prison sentence in a penal colony after a Russian court convicted her on the importation of illegal drugs after Russian customs officials in February found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

President Biden on Thursday announced Russia had released Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S.

Russian media broadcast a video of the exchange that took place at an airport in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. 

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, was with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken when they spoke with Griner from the Oval Office before she left for the U.S.

“She is safe,” said Biden. “She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

Advocacy groups are among those who welcomed Brittney Griner’s release. Cherelle Griner and the Biden administration have said they remain committed to securing the release of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for spying.

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