Full Faith and Credit Clause

A Throwback to the Future

Patience is one of the most challenging virtues. As marriage equality finds its home in state after state after various federal courts strike down exclusion laws passed amid political panic in the wake of Lawrence v. Texas, what seems a straightforward issue has observers on the edges of their seats.

Squire Patton BoggsMeanwhile, how about a throwback, just for nostalgia’s sake? You know, all of ten days.

That is to say, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear heterosupremacist appeals earlier this month, Steve Delchin, writing for the Sixth Circuit Appellate Blog maintained by the D.C. law firm Squire Patton Boggs, looked ahead to what is supposed to be a bated-breath decision coming from the Sixth Circuit sometime before winter arrives:

Some media outlets are calling today’s cert denials a surprise given the high-profile issue involved. But the denials are not really unexpected when you consider there has been little disagreement among lower courts over whether same-sex marriage bans are constitutional. Perhaps the Court is waiting for a split to emerge (as we predicted in prior posts and media comments). All eyes are therefore on the Sixth Circuit’s forthcoming decisions to see whether they will be in line with other courts or whether the Sixth Circuit will blaze a different path. We will continue to keep close watch.

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Alaska, Losing

Detail of the Seal of the State of Alaska

Perhaps the biggest mystery of the recent judicial avalanche in favor of marriage equality is the absence of Article IV in what are clearly Article IV cases. Consider Hamby v. Parnell, a case striking Alaska’s marriage ban.

Perhaps it is the lack of an Article IV claim, as opposed to Judge Heyburn’s decision in Kentucky that intentionally bypassed the Full Faith and Credit Clause of Article IV. Still, though, Judge Timothy M. Burgess, appointed to the District of Alaska by President George W. Bush, finds his way through to strike the ban according to Due Process and Equal Protection under Amendment XIV. Still, though, in a case in which four couples are demanding their marriages from other states be recognized in Alaska, it would seem Full Faith and Credit should be a glaring issue.

To take an example, my father has been married twice, once each to different women. In his first marriage, the couple lived in three different states and a foreign country over the years. They never had to remarry in any of those jurisdictions; the Washington state marriage was sufficient, an act and record of one state recognized in another. In his second marriage, the couple has lived in two states and spent an extended period in Mexico. They did not have to remarry in any other jurisdiction; their Oregon marriage sufficed for other states and, indeed, other countries. This, ultimately, is what is at stake. Perhaps Article IV won’t come into it until a state refuses another state’s marital record in order to force the couple to repeat the ceremony and pay out for licensing in the new state.

The bottom line, however, is that another state’s marriage ban has collapsed under constitutional weight. This much, at least, is hardly mysterious.

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Burgess, Timothy S. “Order”. Hamby v. Parnell. United States District Court for the District of Alaska. 12 October 2014.

Where the Tide Takes Us

The hammer drops

The application for stay presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court is denied. The orders heretofore entered by Justice Kennedy are vacated.

Supreme Court of the United States

This is not an unexpected outcome. Indeed, the blunt, unsigned order refusing Idaho’s request to stay the Ninth Circuit decision striking the state’s same-sex marriage ban is pretty much exactly expected. The only strange thing about it, really, is that the order exists at all.

The point arose last week when the Court refused to hear arguments from several states after Appeals courts struck their marriage bans. As Rachel Maddow explained to viewers:

So, there are nine Supreme Court justices. Do the math. If you want to win a case at the Supreme Court, you need five votes. You need five justices on your side. You need five votes to win a case.

But it only takes four votes for the Supreme Court to decide to take a case in the first place. So, we know there are four anti-gay marriage justices on the Supreme Court—Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas. If they had wanted to hear one of these cases today, if they had wanted the chance to overturn one of those pro-gay marriage cases from the lower courts, those four justices had enough votes to take the case to do it.

I mean, the anti-gay marriage side could have taken one of those cases if they want to. So, why didn’t they?

Latta is an Article IV case. The thing is that no excuse a judge might invent to try to get around Amendment XIV, the Equal Protection Clause, marriage equality runs up against the Full Faith and Credit Clause of Article IV of the Constitution.

Given that the Supreme Court just said no to appeals in Article IV cases, one might wonder why Justice Kennedy thought to issue a stay and ask his colleagues to undertake another Article IV case.

Lyle Denniston brings us the answer:

Without explanation, the Supreme Court late Friday afternoon rejected a request by state officials in Idaho to postpone a lower-court ruling that had nullified the ban on same-sex marriage there. The two-sentence order also lifted an earlier order by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy temporarily delaying that decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

There were no noted dissents from the Court’s new order. Although it gave no reasons, the Court’s action was a further indication that the Justices are unwilling to be drawn into the constitutional controversy at this point, leaving it to lower courts to continue to explore it. Idaho officials had tried to convince the Court that their case was different from the ones that the Court had bypassed on Monday.

Certainly, it was a weak reason, but, you know, it is no big deal, right? Just making people wait for their civil rights in order to be nice to Idaho while they attempt to make an impossible argument.

Nonetheless, Idaho is go. And, you know, it was only a day. What’s another day after all these years?

Oh. Right. Obergefell. Which reminds, there is no news from the Sixth.

But there is news from North Carolina, where a District Court in Charlotte struck the Tar Heel State’s marriage ban according to Bostic v. Schaefer, a Fourth Circuit case the Supreme Court refused.

Additionally, Denniston explains the Ninth Circuit Memorandum issued Saturday, bringing a formal end to the moot Jackson v. Abercrombie in Hawai’i. It’s a happy ending.

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Supreme Court of the United States. “Order in Pending Case”. Otter v. Latta. 10 October 2014.

Maddow, Rachel. “‘Edie and Thea’ lead way to marriage equality, argle-bargle notwithstanding”. The Rachel Maddow Show. msnbc. 6 October 2014.

Denniston, Lyle. “No delay on Idaho same-sex marriages”. SCOTUSblog. 10 October 2014.

Cogburn, Max O. “Memorandum of Decision and Order”. General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Resinger. United States District Court Western District of North Carolina Charlotte Division. 10 October 2014.

United States District Court for the District of Hawaii. “Memorandum”. Jackson v. Abercrombie and Bradley v. Abercrombie. 10 October 2014.