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DOJ asks Supreme Court to prioritize Windsor’s DOMA challenge

Brief says Second Circuit ‘most appropriate vehicle’ for justices

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Edith Windsor, gay news, Washington Blade

The Justice Department is asking DOJ to prioritize Edith Windsor‘s challenge against DOMA (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Obama administration is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to make the case of an 83-year-old New York lesbian who had to pay $363,000 in estate taxes its highest priority among the pending lawsuits challenging the Defense of Marriage Act.

In an 11-page supplemental brief filed on Friday, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli writes that the case of Windsor v. United States — which recently led the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals to conclude DOMA is unconstitutional — should take precedence among other pending lawsuits challenging the anti-gay law.

Previously, the Justice Department has said the consolidated case of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services — which was filed respectively by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley — should be the priority because the case once was the only one in which an appeals court ruled against DOMA.

However, that changed after the ruling by the Second Circuit, which became the first appeals court to apply heightened scrutiny — or a greater assumption the law is unconstitutional — in its ruling against DOMA. The application of heightened scrutiny is suggested in the Justice Department as the reason why the Windsor case should take precedence, although it’s not explicitly stated.

“Although Department of Health and Human Services v. Massachusetts… is also a case in which a court of appeals has rendered a decision, this case now provides the most appropriate vehicle for this Court’s resolution of the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA,” the brief states. “In particular, the court of appeals in Massachusetts was constrained by binding circuit precedent as to the applicable level of scrutiny … whereas the court of appeals here was not so constrained, and its analysis may be beneficial to this Court’s consideration of that issue.”

The plaintiff in the case, which was filed by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, is Edith Windsor, who was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes in 2009 upon the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer. The two had lived as a couple for 44 years and married in Canada in 2007.

In a statement, Windsor said she’s “pleased” the Justice Department underscoring the importance of her lawsuit against DOMA.

“I am so pleased that the U.S. Solicitor General has recommended that the Supreme Court grant certiorari in my case,” Windsor said. “It has been a long journey up to this point, and I remain hopeful that I will be alive to see the day soon when justice is done for me and for all other married gay and lesbian couples.”

The Justice Department brief explains that the administration previously had concerns about the Windsor case, but each of these concerns was addressed in the Second Circuit ruling. Chief among them was that no appellate court had weighed on the lawsuit, which was obviously addressed when the Second Circuit made its decision.

Additionally, Paul Clement, a private attorney who’s defending the lawsuit on behalf of House Republicans, contended the lawsuit should be brought to certification before the New York’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, to allow before the case could move forward because New York had yet to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009. The Justice Department points the Second Circuit dismissed this argument in its decision.

“[A]fter finding New York law sufficiently clear to resolve the issue directly rather than requiring certification to the New York Court of Appeals, the court of appeals unanimously held — consistent with the ‘useful and unanimous’ rulings of New York’s intermediate appellate courts — that New York law recognized plaintiff ’s foreign marriage at the relevant time,” the brief states.

Finally, based on previous case law, the Justice Department disputes a notion that the previous brief asking the Supreme Court to take up the lawsuit should be abrogated in the wake of the Second Circuit.

“Although the government’s petition in this case was filed as one for certiorari before judgment, the issuance of the court of appeals’ intervening decision does not deprive the Court of the authority to grant it,” the brief states. “If granted, the writ of certiorari would still be directed tothe court of appeals, and this Court could still exercise jurisdiction…”

If the Supreme Court grants review in the Windsor case, the Justice Department says justices should hold the petitions in the Massachusetts case “pending final resolution on the merits.” But if the court determines neither case is appropriate for review, the Justice Department says other cases — Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management or Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management — should be considered for review. Federal district courts have ruled against DOMA in those lawsuits and they’re also pending before the Supreme Court, but an appeals court has yet to weigh in on either lawsuits.

Carisa Cunningham, a GLAD spokesperson, was dismissive of the Justice Department’s call to make the Windsor case a higher priority among the challenges against DOMA as opposed to the initial lawsuit her organization filed against the statute.

“DOJ has pretty consistently pointed the court away from Gill for reasons only they can tell you, so this is not surprising to us,” Cunningham said.

Coakley’s office declined to comment on the brief.

[H/T] Prop 8 Trial Tracker

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Pennsylvania

Gay journalist murdered inside Philadelphia home

Josh Kruger’s death has left city ‘shocked and saddened’

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Josh Kruger with his cat Mason (Photo courtesy of Josh Kruger's Facebook page)

An openly gay journalist was shot to death in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning.

According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Josh Kruger was shot at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help. Kruger was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.

Police said that Kruger was shot seven times throughout the chest and abdomen and that no weapons were recovered nor have any arrests been made. Homicides investigators noted that there was no sign of forced entry and the motive remains unclear.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement:

“Josh Kruger lifted up the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our communities — particularly unhoused people living with addiction. As an openly queer writer who wrote about his own journey surviving substance use disorder and homelessness, it was encouraging to see Josh join the Kenney administration as a spokesperson for the Office of Homeless Services.

Josh deserved to write the ending of his personal story. As with all homicides, we will be in close contact with the Philadelphia police as they work to identify the person or persons responsible so that they can be held to account in a court of law. I extend my deepest condolences to Josh’s loved ones and to all those mourning this loss.”

WHYY reported Kruger had written extensively with bylines in multiple publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, WHYY, and Billy Penn.

CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.

“He was more than just a journalist,” Kendall Stephens, who was a friend and neighbor of Kruger’s, told CBS News. “He was more than just a community member. He was somebody that fought that great fight so many of us are not able to fight that fight because we’re too busy sheltered in our own homes wondering if someone is going to knock down our doors and kill us the same way they killed him. The same way they tried to kill me. And we’re tired of it.”   

Kenney said in a statement that he is “shocked and saddened” by Kruger’s death.

“He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing. Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him.”

The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee issued the following statement:

“Many of us knew Josh Kruger as a comrade who never stopped advocating for queer Philadelphians living on the margins of society. His struggles mirrored so many of ours — from community rejection, to homelessness, to addiction, to living with HIV, to poverty — and his recovery, survival, and successes showed what’s possible when politicians and elected leaders reject bigotry and work affirmatively to uplift all people. Even while Josh worked for the mayor, he never stopped speaking out against police violence, politicized attacks on trans and queer people, or the societal discarding of homeless and addicted Philadelphians.

We are devastated that Josh’s life was ended so violently. We urge anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution for Josh’s murder to contact the Philadelphia Police or the DA’s Office directly. LGBTQ+ Philadelphians experience violence of all kinds every day; few people used their platforms to remind powerful people in government of that reality as effectively as Josh Kruger did. Josh and the communities he advocated for every day of his life deserve nothing less than justice and accountability for this outrageous crime.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017

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(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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