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Marriage Cases Captivate Nation Awaiting SCOTUS’ Final Rulings

Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, outside the Supreme Court Wed. morning, were denied a marriage license in Berkeley, Calif., and have four children. Photo by Jason Kane

The Morning Line

Should the government recognize a relationship between two women or two men the same way it recognizes a marriage between a man and a woman?

That’s one question at the heart of the most anticipated Supreme Court decisions this year, and one the justices have saved for their final day at work this term.

At 10 a.m., the court will issue opinions on whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act that President Bill Clinton signed into law on Sept. 21, 1996 should remain standing. The court also is expected to rule on whether California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage, overwhelmingly approved by the voters in 2008, is constitutional.

We’ve got primers on Prop 8 and DOMA ahead of the rulings. And we will have SCOTUSBlog’s live coverage from inside the courtroom here and much more on our site all day long.

Adam Liptak set the scene for the New York Times:

The rulings will come against the backdrop of a rapid shift in public attitudes about same-sex marriage, with recent polls indicating that a majority of Americans support allowing such unions. When the justices heard arguments in the two cases in March, nine states and the District of Columbia had laws allowing same-sex marriage. Since then, three more states have enacted such laws.

Pollsters say the public opinion change is the most dramatic they’ve seen on a social issue, and it’s evident as the nation awaits these major decisions.

There’s a whole bunch of things the justices could decide on two very different cases. This New York Times graphic lays out the potentially blockbuster options facing the court.

The court could strike down DOMA, which would allow gay couples who are married in states that allow it to get federal benefits. And since the Obama administration enforces the law even though the president believes it is unconstitutional, and House Republicans decided to spend money to defend the law on their own, the justices could find no party had the standing to challenge the appeals court decision that sent the case to them.

In the California case, justices could reverse the appeals court ruling that struck down the ban on gay marriage. That would leave the ban in place. Or they could uphold that ruling, which would let anyone get married — in California only. In the broadest interpretation, the justices could address whether it is unconstitutional for states to prohibit same-sex couples from wedding. Finally, the court could decide that because of who brought the lower court lawsuit, there is no standing for the Supreme Court to even hear the case.

Check out the Human Rights Campaign’s map displaying each state’s policy for gay couples.

Over the last few months the NewsHour has examined the issue in detail. Christina hosted this frank discussion on religion and gay rights via Google Hangout with a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, a United Church of Christ minister and an evangelical pastor. We hosted a Prop 8 debate between a conservative attorney and California’s attorney general, and one between both sides on DOMA.

Reporter Producer Jason Kane is at the court for the NewsHour. Follow him!


The focus going into Tuesday morning had been on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the keystone provision in the country’s most prominent civil rights law. Section 5 forces states and counties with a history of discriminating against citizens at the polls to clear any elections changes with the federal government first.

It was a preventative law. And it had brought great change to southern states and other covered areas by increasing minority voter turnout and ensuring minority communities’ votes weren’t diluted or gerrymandered.

Without dismantling Section 5 itself, a slim majority of Supreme Court justices chose to make it ineffective. They struck down Section 4 of the act instead, which outlined how Congress could enforce Section 5.

Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational fund said the law has become known as the “crown jewel of civil rights litigation,” and she argued that the law had given Congress the power to enforce anti-discrimination policies, not the Supreme Court.

But Edward Blum of the Project on Fair Representation — he funded the petitioner Shelby County, Ala., in this suit against the federal government — said the Justice Department still had powers to enforce the Voting Rights Act under Section 2, which allowed for litigation on discriminatory practices.

Ifill and Blum spoke with Ray Suarez on the NewsHour. That segment is here or below.

Here’s Marcia Coyle’s three-minute take on what striking Section 4 in the act means.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said, “The Fifteenth Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future.” The court said Section 4 was unconstitutional because it used a formula that was nearly 50 years old to decide which states and counties would fall under Section 5.

Justice Clarence Thomas concurred and pushed against the law even farther. He said he would have found Section 5 unconstitutional as well.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the minority that included Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, lashed at the majority group.

“The court’s opinion can hardly be described as an exemplar of restrained and moderate decisionmaking. Quite the opposite. Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the Voting Rights Act,” she wrote.

She pointed out, specifically, that racial discrimination in voting no longer comes from poll taxes and other overt methods. Instead, it’s in the form of “second-generation barriers,” the subtler changes that redraw legislative districts to segregate and dilute votes.

Read the Supreme Court’s full opinion here.

After the justices read their decision from the bench Tuesday, the reactions from Capitol Hill and the White House came quickly and forcefully.

Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said the court “stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

He said in a statement:

I remember in the 1960s when people of color were the majority in the small town of Tuskegee, Alabama. To insure that a black person would not be elected, the state gerrymandered Tuskegee Institute and the black sections of town so they fell outside the city limits. This reminds me too much of a case that occurred in Randolph County in my own state of Georgia, when the first black man was elected to the board of education in 2002. The county legislature changed his district so he would not be re-elected.

I disagree with the court that the history of discrimination is somehow irrelevant today. The record clearly demonstrates numerous attempts to impede voting rights still exist, and it does not matter that those attempts are not as “pervasive, widespread or rampant” as they were in 1965. One instance of discrimination is too much in a democracy.

Lewis isn’t alone in remembering moving moments from before the Act passed and once it did. The NewsHour collected more than two dozen audio memories from people who remember when the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.

Click on the image below to listen to the stories, or visit our special Voting Rights Act page here.

WUNC’s radio show The Story also collected memories for a full show.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., will begin hearings next month on how to rewrite the enforcement formula. The issue is already becoming highly politicized, as the Democratic National Committee solicited donations shortly after the ruling’s announcement.

“I intend to take immediate action to ensure that we will have a strong and reconstituted Voting Rights Act that protects against racial discrimination in voting,” Leahy said.

The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty and Dan Balz examined whether Congress is even capable of coming together to craft a new formula.

Shira Toeplitz rounds up the four effects of the Voting Rights Act ruling on the 2014 midterms.

And the National Journal’s Reid Wilson writes that decision could result in Republicans keeping control of the House for many years to come.

President Barack Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” with the Supreme Court’s decision. He also called on Congress to act quickly to reinstate an enforcement provision.

State attorneys general, especially those who had fallen under Section 5 of the act, applauded the court. Many states and counties had argued the burdens of the law were too great, and the costs of working through the Justice Department’s clearance process too drawn out and unaffordable.

Alabama’s Attorney General Luther Strange called the ruling “an important victory for the fundamental constitutional principle that all states enjoy equal sovereignty.” And Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the state’s restrictive and controversial voter ID law would take effect immediately. That law and Texas’ redistricting was under review by the federal government.

Marcia Coyle explained the ruling in our lead segment:

Coyle also spoke with Jeffrey Brown about a second case decided Tuesday, involving a young girl whose biological father and adoptive parents disputed her custody. The case called into question the Indian Child Welfare Act, and whether the girl’s Cherokee Indian heritage could prevent her from going to the adoptive couple.

The court ruled 5-4 in favor of the adoptive parents because the biological father never had custody of Baby Veronica to begin with. There was no breakup of an Indian family to avoid, they wrote in the opinion. Slate Magazine also covered the case and included RadioLab’s hit story on it as well.

Coyle will be back on the NewsHour Wednesday night, and will give her immediate reaction in the morning, after justices issue decisions on the same-sex marriage cases.


  • The Las Vegas Sun perfectly sets up the state of play on immigration as of Tuesday night: “All that stands between the Senate and a final immigration vote this week are a series of amendments. But how many? And which ones? So far, congressional leaders haven’t been able to settle that nagging question.” As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attempts to reach a deal, he set up a major test vote for the overall bill for Thursday. If that gets the needed 60 votes, it clears the way for final passage of the bipartisan legislation on Friday.
  • The latest in Texas’ saga over legislation that would restrict abortion involves Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who said a senator had strayed off topic 10 hours into a 13-hour filibuster. Democrats appealed the decision. The Senate finally voted for the bill just after the midnight deadline, but Dewhurst ruled the vote moot, claiming all “the ruckus and noise going on” precluded him from making it official. And Wendy Davis has become a national hero for Democrats.
  • “As a president, as a father, as an American, I’m here to say we need to act,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday in a major speech on climate change. The president called for what the AP dubbed a wide-ranging plan to tackle pollution and prepare communities for global warming. He also said he would direct the State Department to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, only if it won’t add to carbon emissions. You can watch the full speech here.

Watch the NewsHour discussion with Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and attorney Scott Segal, who represents companies pushing for the Keystone extension, here or below:

  • Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey is now Senator-elect. He defeated Republican Gabriel Gomez in Tuesday’s special election to fill the remainder of John Kerry’s term.
  • The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe sat down with interim Sen. Mo Cowan, D-Mass., to talk about his six-month stint as Kerry’s short-term replacement on Capitol Hill.
  • Jonnie Williams, a top political donor to Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, reportedly bought the governor at $6,500 Rolex watch at first lady Maureen McDonnell’s urging, which the governor did not disclose. This is the first known personal gift to the governor not to be disclosed among tens of thousands of dollars in undisclosed gifts to his family.
  • “I hope that my parents can finally have full and equal rights as gay women — the same as each and every man and woman in this country,” writes a man raised by two moms in this open letter to the Supreme Court ahead of the marriage decisions.
  • Commodities trader Marc Rich, best known for being pardoned by President Clinton on his last day in office, died Wednesday at 78.
  • Politico’s Maggie Haberman has the details on Cory Booker’s first ad in the New Jersey Senate special election contest.
  • The Senate Tuesday confirmed Penny Pritzker to be the new U.S. Commerce Secretary on a 97-1 vote. Vermont independent Bernie Sanders was the lone “Nay.”
  • A House panel will decide this week if Lois Lerner will be called back before Congress to testify without taking the fifth this time.
  • The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza overheard a Democratic member of Congress making fundraising calls on Tuesday and live-tweeted the whole thing.
  • House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, named current economic policy adviser David Stewart as his new policy director.
  • “[M]ankind has existed for a pretty long time without anyone ever having to give a sex ed lesson to anybody. And now we feel like, oh gosh people are too stupid unless we force them to sit and listen to instructions. It is just incredible,” Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert told a conservative radio show.
  • Public Policy Polling found a tight hypothetical Senate race in Montana.
  • Former New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine could be facing civil charges as early as this week for his money mismanagement at MF Global and the brokerage firm’s collapse.
  • Members team pitcher Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., leads Roll Call’s Fantasy Softball, but the press team’s First Base player, NBC’s Kasie Hunt, is advancing. The Washington Post profiles the game and asks if the Bad News Babes press team can defeat the members another year and keep their trophy.
  • The Bad News Babes opened for Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown Tuesday.
  • Batter up! You know you wanted more softball videos ahead of Wednesday night’s big game. Here’s one done by the NewsHour online team:

Watch the piece shot and edited by Cindy Huang and Ellen Rolfes here or below.

  • Get the point? It’s for a great cause. Buy your tickets here. First pitch is at 7:30 p.m.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • Senior Broadcast Producer Mike Melia delivers for Art Beat the first of several teaser videos from the NewsHour’s forthcoming piece on Phish’s Trey Anastasio. In this edition, the iconic musician opens up about the love he feels for all those fans grooving in the crowd.

  • Larisa Epatko previews the president’s trip to Africa.
  • Former NewsHour foreign affairs and defense editor Michael Mosettig reports on Dick Cheney’s public reaction to Edward Snowden’s ability to access government data as a contractor.
  • Jeff Brown caught up with singer and actress Audra McDonald about her new album “Go Back Home” — and what home means to her.
  • Don’t be tempted by a fancy new job or big promotion, says headhunter Nick Corcodilos, without investigating your new co-workers and other departments with which you’ll be interacting.
  • Betty Ann Bowser examined the challenges Colorado is facing as it works to implement new health care exchanges.












Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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