Thursday, November 06, 2014
Movin' On Up
In a move that could hardly be called surprising but which is, nonetheless, disappointing, a three judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal has reversed a number of District Court cases that had invalidated bans in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee of same-sex marriages or recognition of same-sex marriages lawfully conducted in other states.
Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who wrote the majority decision, had signaled during oral arguments that he might vote to uphold the bans. I had rather hoped that the decision by Judge Richard Posner, probably the most influential American judge not on the Supreme Court, that came down between the Sixth Circuit's oral arguments and today's decision, might have made Judge Sutton rethink his position. Despite Judge Posner pissing from a great height on all the arguments against same-sex marriage, Judge Sutton held fast to his position in the schoolhouse door ... sorry, county clerk's office door.
Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog more than adequately summarizes the "rationale" of the majority. Boiled down to its essentials and stripped of some legal technicalities concerning a one-sentence SCOTUS decision in Baker v. Nelson in 1972, it is Justice Scalia's majoritarianism. Despite the fact that the 14th Amendment reads, in relevant part:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.... Justice Scalia maintains that women, those who want to marry people of a different race and LGBT people are not "persons" or "citizens" for purposes of the Constitution because the people who first used those words hadn't thought through what they were saying.
It is not that Judge Sutton appears unsympathetic to gay people or their wish to be married, he is upholding the idea that courts should "go slowly" and defer to the "wishes of 'the' people" as to the "traditional" definition of marriage. One could only imagine his reaction to "traditional" Jim Crow laws ...
I'd like to give you some large chunks of the dissent of Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey (with the technical citations omitted), which I think any rational person would agree with:
The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy. But as an appellate court decision, it wholly fails to grapple with the relevant constitutional question in this appeal: whether a state's constitutional prohibition of same-sex marriage violates equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Instead, the majority sets up a false premise—that the question before us is "who should decide?"—and leads us through a largely irrelevant discourse on democracy and federalism. In point of fact, the real issue before us concerns what is at stake in these six cases for the individual plaintiffs and their children, and what should be done about it. Because I reject the majority's resolution of these questions based on its invocation of vox populi and its reverence for "proceeding with caution" (otherwise known as the "wait and see" approach), I dissent.[I told you Posner pissed on those arguments from a great height but it takes quite a bit to make a Federal judge of Posner's standing, even if he is known to be irascible, to mock the claims of state governments quite so openly.]
In the main, the majority treats both the issues and the litigants here as mere abstractions. Instead of recognizing the plaintiffs as persons, suffering actual harm as a result of being denied the right to marry where they reside or the right to have their valid marriages recognized there, my colleagues view the plaintiffs as social activists who have somehow stumbled into federal court, inadvisably, when they should be out campaigning to win "the hearts and minds" of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee voters to their cause. But these plaintiffs are not political zealots trying to push reform on their fellow citizens; they are committed same-sex couples, many of them heading up de facto families, who want to achieve equal status—de jure status, if you will—with their married neighbors, friends, and coworkers, to be accepted as contributing members of their social and religious communities, and to be welcomed as fully legitimate parents at their children's schools. They seek to do this by virtue of exercising a civil right that most of us take for granted—the right to marry.
Readers who are familiar with the Supreme Court's recent opinion in United States v. Windsor ... and its progeny in the circuit courts, particularly the Seventh Circuit's opinion [by Judge Posner] in Baskin v. Bogan ... ("Formally these cases are about discrimination against the small homosexual minority in the United States. But at a deeper level, . . . they are about the welfare of American children."), must have said to themselves at various points in the majority opinion, "But what about the children?" I did, and I could not find the answer in the opinion. For although my colleagues in the majority pay lip service to marriage as an institution conceived for the purpose of providing a stable family unit "within which children may flourish," they ignore the destabilizing effect of its absence in the homes of tens of thousands of same-sex parents throughout the four states of the Sixth Circuit.
Indeed, with the exception of Ohio, the defendants in each of these cases—the proponents of their respective "defense of marriage" amendments—spent virtually their entire oral arguments professing what has come to be known as the "irresponsible procreation" theory: that limiting marriage and its benefits to opposite-sex couples is rational, even necessary, to provide for "unintended offspring" by channeling their biological procreators into the bonds of matrimony. When we asked counsel why that goal required the simultaneous exclusion of same-sex couples from marrying, we were told that permitting same-sex marriage might denigrate the institution of marriage in the eyes of opposite-sex couples who conceive out of wedlock, causing subsequent abandonment of the unintended offspring by one or both biological parents. We also were informed that because same-sex couples cannot themselves produce wanted or unwanted offspring, and because they must therefore look to non-biological means of parenting that require planning and expense, stability in a family unit headed by same-sex parents is assured without the benefit of formal matrimony. But, as the court in Baskin pointed out, many "abandoned children [born out of wedlock to biological parents] are adopted by homosexual couples, and those children would be better off both emotionally and economically if their adoptive parents were married." ... How ironic that irresponsible, unmarried, opposite-sex couples in the Sixth Circuit who produce unwanted offspring must be "channeled" into marriage and thus rewarded with its many psychological and financial benefits, while same-sex couples who become model parents are punished for their responsible behavior by being denied the right to marry. As an obviously exasperated Judge Posner responded after puzzling over this same paradox in Baskin, "Go figure."
... the Baskin court noted that estimates put the number of American children being raised by same-sex parents at over 200,000. ... "Unintentional offspring are the children most likely to be put up for adoption," ... and because statistics show that same-sex couples are many times more likely to adopt than opposite-sex couples, "same-sex marriage improves the prospects of unintended children by increasing the number and resources of prospective adopters." ... Moreover, "[i]f marriage is better for children who are being brought up by their biological parents, it must be better for children who are being brought up by their adoptive parents." ...And, as I have said so often, the stories of the very real people in these cases are the heart and soul of the matter:
... Two of the Michigan plaintiffs, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, are unmarried, same-sex partners who have lived as a couple for eight years in a home they own together. They are both trained and employed as nurses, DeBoer in a hospital neonatal department and Rowse in an emergency department at another hospital. Together they are rearing three children but, due to existing provisions in Michigan's adoption laws, DeBoer and Rowse are prohibited from adopting the children as joint parents because they are unmarried. Instead, Rowse alone adopted two children, who are identified in the record as N and J. DeBoer adopted the third child, who is identified as R. All three children had difficult starts in life, and two of them are now characterized as "special needs" children. N was born on January 25, 2009, to a biological mother who was homeless, had psychological impairments, was unable to care for N, and subsequently surrendered her legal rights to N. The plaintiffs volunteered to care for the boy and brought him into their home following his birth. In November 2009, Rowse completed the necessary steps to adopt N legally.I spit on your vox populi or any need to "go slowly"! Those children need all the help our society can give them ... not some day ... over the rainbow ... but now ... in concrete ways that only giving their parents ... their only true parents by any rational definition ... all the rights that parents should have! ...
Rowse also legally adopted J after the boy's foster care agency asked Rowse and DeBoer initially to serve as foster parents and legal guardians for him, despite the uphill climb the baby faced. ...
The third adopted child, R, was born on February 1, 2010, to a 19-year-old girl who received no prenatal care and who gave birth at her mother's home before bringing the infant to the hospital where plaintiff DeBoer worked. R continues to experience issues related to her lack of prenatal care, including delayed gross motor skills. She is in a physical-therapy program to address these problems.
Both DeBoer and Rowse share in the responsibilities of raising the two four-year-olds and the five-year-old. The plaintiffs even have gone so far as to "coordinate their work schedules so that at least one parent is generally home with the children" to attend to their medical needs and perform other parental duties. Given the close-knit, loving environment shared by the plaintiffs and the children, DeBoer wishes to adopt N and J legally as a second parent, and Rowse wishes to adopt R legally as her second parent.
The bench trial lasted for eight days and consisted of testimony from sociologists, economists, law professors, a psychologist, a historian, a demographer, and a county clerk. ... Gary Gates, a demographer, and Vivek Sankaran, the director of both the Child Advocacy Law Clinic and the Child Welfare Appellate Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, together offered testimony painting a grim picture of the plight of foster children and orphans in the state of Michigan. For example, Sankaran noted that just under 14,000 foster children reside in Michigan, with approximately 3,500 of those being legal orphans. Nevertheless, same-sex couples in the state are not permitted to adopt such children as a couple. Even though one person can legally adopt a child, should anything happen to that adoptive parent, there is no provision in Michigan's legal framework that would "ensure that the children would necessarily remain with the surviving non-legal parent," even if that parent went through the arduous, time-consuming, expensive adoption-approval process. Thus, although the State of Michigan would save money by moving children from foster care or state care into adoptive families, and although same-sex couples in Michigan are almost three times more likely than opposite-sex couples to be raising an adopted child and twice as likely to be fostering a child, there remains a legal disincentive for same-sex couples to adopt children there. ...After discussing the decisions in the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Circuits, Judge Daughtrey goes on to say:
To counteract the testimony offered by the plaintiffs' witnesses, the defendants presented as witnesses the authors or co-authors of three studies that disagreed with the conclusions reached by the plaintiffs' experts. All three studies, however, were given little credence by the district court because of inherent flaws in the methods used or the intent of the authors. For example, the New Family Structures Study reported by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, admittedly relied upon interviews of children from gay or lesbian families who were products of broken heterosexual unions in order to support a conclusion that living with such gay or lesbian families adversely affected the development of the children. Regnerus conceded, moreover, that his own department took the highly unusual step of issuing the following statement on the university website in response to the release of the study:
[Dr. Regnerus's opinions] do not reflect the views of the sociology department of the University of Texas at Austin. Nor do they reflect the views of the American Sociological Association which takes the position that the conclusions he draws from his study of gay parenting are fundamentally flawed on conceptual and methodological grounds and that the findings from Dr. Regnerus'[s] work have been cited inappropriately in efforts to diminish the civil rights and legitimacy of LBGTQ partners and their families. ...
These four cases from our sister circuits provide a rich mine of responses to every rationale raised by the defendants in the Sixth Circuit cases as a basis for excluding same-sex couples from contracting valid marriages. Indeed, it would seem unnecessary for this court to do more than cite those cases in affirming the district courts' decisions in the six cases now before us. Because the correct result is so obvious, one is tempted to speculate that the majority has purposefully taken the contrary position to create the circuit split regarding the legality of same-sex marriage that could prompt a grant of certiorari by the Supreme Court and an end to the uncertainty of status and the interstate chaos that the current discrepancy in state laws threatens. ...Ouch!
The majority's "original meaning" analysis strings together a number of case citations but can tell us little about the Fourteenth Amendment, except to assure us that "the people who adopted the Fourteenth Amendment [never] understood it to require the States to change the definition of marriage." The quick answer is that they undoubtedly did not understand that it would also require school desegregation in 1955 or the end of miscegenation laws across the country, beginning in California in 1948 and culminating in the Loving decision in 1967. Despite a civil war, the end of slavery, and ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, extensive litigation has been necessary to achieve even a modicum of constitutional protection from discrimination based on race, and it has occurred primarily by judicial decree, not by the democratic election process to which the majority suggests we should defer regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation. ...[I like that allusion!]
The principal thrust of the majority's rational-basis analysis is basically a reiteration of the same tired argument that the proponents of same-sex-marriage bans have raised in litigation across the country: marriage is about the regulation of "procreative urges" of men and women who therefore do not need the "government's encouragement to have sex" but, instead, need encouragement to "create and maintain stable relationships within which children may flourish." The majority contends that exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage must be considered rational based on "the biological reality that couples of the same sex do not have children in the same way as couples of opposite sexes and that couples of the same sex do not run the risk of unintended children." As previously noted, however, this argument is one that an eminent jurist has described as being "so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously." [Judge Posner again] ...
At least my colleagues are perceptive enough to acknowledge that "[g]ay couples, no less than straight couples, are capable of sharing such relationships . . . [and] are capable of raising stable families." The majority is even persuaded that the "quality of [same-sex] relationships, and the capacity to raise children within them, turns not on sexual orientation but on individual choices and individual commitment." All of which, the majority surmises, "supports the policy argument made by many that marriage laws should be extended to gay couples." But this conclusion begs the question: why reverse the judgments of four federal district courts, in four different states, and in six different cases that would do just that?
There are apparently two answers; first, "let the people decide" and, second, "give it time." ...
The second contention is that we should "wait and see" what the fallout is in the states where same-sex marriage is now legal. The majority points primarily to Massachusetts, where same-sex couples have had the benefit of marriage for "only" ten years—not enough time, the majority insists, to know what the effect on society will be. But in the absence of hard evidence that the sky has actually fallen in, ...
... the "states as laboratories of democracy" metaphor and its pitch for restraint has little or no resonance in the fast-changing scene with regard to same-sex marriage. Yet, whenever the expansion of a constitutional right is proposed, "proceed with caution" seems to be the universal mantra of the opponents. The same argument was made by the State of Virginia in Loving. And, in Frontiero v. Richardson ... the government asked the Court to postpone applying heightened scrutiny to allegations of gender discrimination in a statute denying equal benefits to women until the Equal Rights Amendment could be ratified. If the Court had listened to the argument, we would, of course, still be waiting. One is reminded of the admonition in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (1963): "For years now I have heard the word "Wait"! ... [But h]uman progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability .... [and] time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation." ...Sorry for the length of this but it is a fine, strong dissent that deserves more attention than it will get in the popular media. It leaves the majority opinion gasping in its dust and will, I hope, cement Justice Kennedy's and (just maybe) Justice Roberts' will to do the right thing!
Finally, there is a need to address briefly the subject of unconstitutional animus, which the majority opinion equates only with actual malice and hostility on the part of members of the electorate. But in many instances involving rational-basis review, the Supreme Court has taken a more objective approach to the classification at issue, rather than a subjective one. Under such an analysis, it is not necessary for a court to divine individual malicious intent in order to find unconstitutional animus. Instead, the Supreme Court has instructed that an exclusionary law violates the Equal Protection Clause when it is based not upon relevant facts, but instead upon only a general, ephemeral distrust of, or discomfort with, a particular group, for example, when legislation is justified by the bare desire to exclude an unpopular group [individuals with intellectual disabilities] from a social institution or arrangement. ...
To my mind, the soundest description of this analysis is found in Justice Stevens's separate opinion in City of Cleburne:
In every equal protection case, we have to ask certain basic questions. What class is harmed by the legislation, and has it been subjected to a "tradition of disfavor" by our laws? What is the public purpose that is being served by the law? What is the characteristic of the disadvantaged class that justifies the disparate treatment? In most cases the answer to these questions will tell us whether the statute has a "rational basis." ...Today, my colleagues seem to have fallen prey to the misguided notion that the intent of the framers of the United States Constitution can be effectuated only by cleaving to the legislative will and ignoring and demonizing an independent judiciary. Of course, the framers presciently recognized that two of the three co-equal branches of government were representative in nature and necessarily would be guided by self-interest and the pull of popular opinion. To restrain those natural, human impulses, the framers crafted Article III to ensure that rights, liberties, and duties need not be held hostage by popular whims.
More than 20 years ago, when I took my oath of office to serve as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, I solemnly swore to "administer justice without respect to persons," to "do equal right to the poor and to the rich," and to "faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me . . . under the Constitution and laws of the United States." ... If we in the judiciary do not have the authority, and indeed the responsibility, to right fundamental wrongs left excused by a majority of the electorate, our whole intricate, constitutional system of checks and balances, as well as the oaths to which we swore, prove to be nothing but shams.
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