U.S. Supreme Court Concludes Active Federalism Term
The U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 handed down decisions in two of the most talked about cases this year—whether California’s public referendum banning same-sex marriage would be allowed to stand and whether the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal benefits for same-sex couples, passes Constitutional muster.
In both cases, the Supreme Court leaned heavily on state authority and federalism in their decisions.
In the case about California’s Prop 8 referendum, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court refused to hear the case outright, since the party that appealed a lower court case to the Supreme Court lacked standing. In an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court concluded that since the pro-Prop 8 activists who appealed the case to the Supreme Court were not party to lower court rulings, their appeal was invalid and the lower court ruling stands, effectively allowing same-sex marriage to resume in California. California officials last year refused to appeal the lower court decision, prompting pro-Prop 8 activists to try a shot at appeal.
The other case, United States v. Windsor, overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act signed into law in 1996. In an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the majority discussed federalism quite a bit, in part by calling DOMA an infringement on the states that passed laws supporting same-sex marriage.
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy wrote.
The two gay rights cases decided Wednesday were not the only forays into federalism this term.
The Supreme Court this week handed down decisions in two cases in which The Council of State Governments filed amicus briefs through its Legal Task Force.
The court took up a Florida case, Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District, and significantly changed the legal theory behind regulatory land takings cases, potentially increasing the ability to challenge a state’s permit denials.
In another decision, Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett, the court held that federal law pre-empts state generic drug labeling laws, even when a state’s laws are stronger than the federal law. The ruling will force New Hampshire to reconsider some of its stronger-than-average warning label requirements.
CSG will continue to monitor the Supreme Court docket for cases that could impact states.