Monday, January 06, 2014

SCOTUS Grants Utah's Motion To Halt Same-Sex Marriages

The United States Supreme Court has granted Utah's motion for a permanent stay on the federal district court's injunction against Utah's ban on same-sex marriage while appeals in Kitchen v. Herbert continue, thus ending marriage equality in the state.

SCOTUSblog reports:
The order appeared to have the support of the full Court, since there were no noted dissents.  The ruling can be interpreted as an indication that the Court wants to have further exploration in lower courts of the basic constitutional question of state power to limit marriage to a man and a woman.  Had it refused the state’s request for delay, that would have left at least the impression that the Court was comfortable allowing same-sex marriages to go forward in the thirty-three states where they are still not permitted by state law.
Since the Monday order provided no explanation, it was not clear which of the arguments made by state officials had been convincing to the Justices.  The state had argued, among other things, that U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby’s decision nullifying Utah’s ban had preempted the power of the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter on that question.  The state also had contended that its interest in enforcing its ban would have been undercut by a refusal of a stay.  And it had said that it would be difficult to untangle marriages that had occurred in the meantime, if the ban were ultimately upheld in the courts.
As a result of the new order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, based in Denver, will go forward with an expedited review of Judge Shelby’s decision.  The appeals court has ordered briefing to begin on January 27 and to be completed by February 25.  It has indicated it is not likely to grant any extensions of time to file those documents.  It has not yet set a hearing date.
With the Justices’ order in the case, it now appears almost certain that the question of state power to bar same-sex marriages will not be before the Justices during the current Term.  A case on that issue would have to be granted this month to be reviewed before the Court is expected to finish this Term in late June.
As Rick Hasen notes, this decision from the high court is not surprising. The only reason why the lower federal court did not issue a stay earlier was because Utah's stay requests were so badly botched. The key point to note is that by the end of June 2015 the United States Supreme Court will almost certainly issue a ruling on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage.

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