Tag: Tenth Circuit

Supporting Marriage Equality in Utah and Oklahoma

Utah Constitutional Amendment 3, passed by referendum in 2004, states that no union other than one between a man and a woman may be recognized as a marriage. Derek Kitchen and five co-plaintiffs took issue with this definition and filed a lawsuit in federal district court last year to challenge the gay marriage ban. In a surprising and widely publicized December 2013 ruling, the court invalidated the amendment, finding that such a restriction was an affront to equal protection and the fundamental right to marry.

Meanwhile, Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin also filed a federal suit to challenge a similar provision that was added to Oklahoma’s constitution by referendum in 2004. Like Utah’s district court, the Oklahoma district court found the amendment unconstitutional. Following on the heels of last term’s Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor—which struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act—these ground-breaking red-state cases are now both before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which will consider the constitutionality of a state’s decision to exclude same-sex unions from the definition of marriage.

Reprising our collaboration in Hollingsworth v. Perry—the Prop 8 case in which the Supreme Court avoided ruling on the merits—Cato and the Constitutional Accountability Center have filed a brief supporting the Utah and Oklahoma plaintiffs’ fight for equality under the law in their respective challenges. We argue that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to protect from this same type of arbitrary and invidious singling-out that the Utah and Oklahoma marriage restrictions effect; that the original meaning of the Equal Protection Clause confirms that its protections are to be interpreted broadly; and that the clause provides every person the equal right to marry a person of his or her choice. We believe that the Utah and Oklahoma constitutional amendments conflict with the equal protection rights of those same-sex couples whose unions are treated differently than those of opposite-sex couples.

Every person has the right to choose whom to marry, and to have that decision respected equally by the state in which they live. Especially in the wake of Windsor, it is becoming clearer that laws like these that force same-sex unions into second-class status have no place in a free society. The Tenth Circuit should affirm the district courts’ decisions.

With briefing in Kitchen v. Herbert and Bishop v. Smith now complete, the Tenth Circuit will be hearing argument shortly, with a decision expected in late spring or summer.

This blogpost was co-authored by Cato legal associate Julio Colomba.

 

In a Republic, Voters Are Sovereign

As the story goes, when Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he was approached by a woman who wanted to know what type of government the delegates created. Franklin responded, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” Since the Founding, the Supreme Court has never directly defined what this “Republican Form of Government” is that Article IV of the Constitution guarantees to every state in the union — but cases come up every now and then invoking this provision (also known as the Guarantee Clause).

The latest such case comes out of Colorado and involves the ability of voters, protected in nearly every state constitution, to make law through various forms of direct democracy, such as voter initiatives. In 1992, Centennial State voters enacted a Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) to restrict the legislature’s ability to raise tax rates or increase spending, in a formula tied to the rate of inflation and population growth, unless otherwise approved by voters.

In Kerr v. Hickenlooper, the plaintiffs wish to remove this barrier and provide the Colorado legislature, municipalities, and school boards with full discretionary authority to tax, spend, and borrow, without voter approval. State Senator Andy Kerr and other government officials are seeking to redefine a “republic” as an institution whereby all legislation is solely the duty and privilege of the legislatures, and voter referenda are impermissible. The outcome of this revised interpretation could invalidate centuries of voter decisions at the ballots, abolish future voter input aside from the election of representatives, and give politicians carte blanche to tax, spend, and borrow.

Surprisingly, and despite any showing that voter initiatives are somehow incompatible with “republican government,” the federal district court allowed the lawsuit to proceed. Now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Cato has joined the Independence Institute on an amicus brief arguing that, absent controlling legal precedent, the phrase “Republican Form of Government” should be defined by the standard sources the Supreme Court uses to decipher constitutional language: Eighteenth century political works, contemporaneous dictionaries, and official records and commentary from the Constitutional Convention, which for our purposes here all define “republic” in a way fully consistent with direct citizen lawmaking.

The most popular example of voter participation at the time of the Founding was through the town meeting, employed to this day throughout much of New England. Moreover, Massachusetts ratified its state constitution of 1780 by referendum, and Rhode Island even used a referendum to ratify the U.S. Constitution itself. Entry of those states into the union entailed recognition that those existing states had a republican form of government.

Based on all available evidence, the Guarantee Clause doesn’t require Colorado to dismantle its TABOR system of checks and balances. We urge the Tenth Circuit to reverse the district court’s denial of Colorado’s motion to dismiss and allow the state to preserve its model of self-governance.

Court Enforces Secrecy about Constitutional Abuses

The purpose of filing amicus briefs is to bring to courts’ attention certain supplemental arguments or relevant facts that go beyond those which the parties present.  It is also to show that a particular group – ranging from policy activists and think tanks to industry groups to ad hoc collections of academics to companies and organizations  that would be directly affected by the case – has a particular interest in a case, as well as educating the public about important issues.  Cato files its briefs for all these reasons, and we’ve found them to be an effective method of spreading our message, both in court and in the “court of public opinion.”

Now, imagine if, after filing a brief, you discover that the court has “sealed” it – meaning removed it from public view or access – precisely because your goal “is clearly to discuss in public [your] agenda.”  As Adam Liptak describes in a troubling New York Times column today, that’s the situation facing our friends at the Institute for Justice and Reason Foundation in a case before the Tenth Circuit (the federal appellate court based in Denver).

I won’t regurgitate the column here, but suffice it to say that the IJ/Reason brief shines a spotlight on various abuses by the Kansas U.S. attorney office, and supports a case in which the federal district court in Topeka has come down hard on an activist who thinks the government is too aggressive in prosecuting doctors who prescribe pain medications.  As my friend and IJ lawyer Paul Sherman is quoted as saying, “It’s a profound problem.  We want to bring attention to important First Amendment issues but cannot share the brief that most forcefully makes those arguments.”

Read the whole thing.