Karen Golinski (right) with her wife, Amy Cunninghis
Karen Golinski is a staff attorney at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and all she has wanted for years (seriously, read the procedural history of the case) is what any federal employee wanted: the right to enroll her spouse in the super-awesome federal employee health benefits plan. Thing is, though, Karen's spouse is a woman, legally married under California law, and under Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
This case has a unique procedural history, having first been ruled upon by 9th Cir Chief Judge Alex Kozinski
in his internal administrative capacity, an order effectively ignored by the Obama Administration, but now it's before the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, with the Administration now refusing to defend DOMA, leaving it to former Solicitor Paul Clement, on behalf of Congressional Republicans, to defend its constitutionality.
That ruling came down today from the Hon. Jeffrey White, and sometimes Pres. George W. Bush's judicial nominees say the darndest things:
The Court has found that DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex married couples. Even though animus is clearly present in its legislative history, the Court, having examined that history, the arguments made in its support, and the effects of the law, is persuaded that something short of animus may have motivated DOMA’s passage:
(Continue reading below the fold)
Prejudice, we are beginning to understand, rises not from malice or hostile
Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 374-75 (2001) (Kennedy, J., concurring).
animus alone. It may result as well from insensitivity caused by simple want of
careful, rational reflection or from some instinctive mechanism to guard against
people who appear to be different in some respects from ourselves.
This case was presented by an employee of the judicial branch against the executive
branch, which ultimately determined it could not legitimately support the law. The law was then defended by the legislative branch. The judicial branch is tasked with determining whether this federal law is unconstitutional. That is the courts’ authority and responsibility. “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is” and, where it is so, to declare legislation unconstitutional. See Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). As Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts said during his confirmation hearings: “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules, they apply them. ... it’s [the judge’s] job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat.” ...
In this matter, the Court finds that DOMA, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates her right to equal protection of the law under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution by, without substantial justification or rational basis, refusing to recognize her lawful marriage to prevent provision of health insurance coverage to her spouse.
Accordingly, the Court issues a permanent injunction enjoining defendants, and those
acting at their direction or on their behalf, from interfering with the enrollment of Ms.
Golinski’s wife in her family health benefits plan.
Short version of the ruling: heightened scrutiny applies to laws which discriminate against gays, but even if rational basis is the test, DOMA still furthers no conceivable rational government interest—a ruling much like that from the District of Massachusetts two years ago
Big win. Go read the opinion.