The Obergefell Dissents - C.J. Roberts Introduction

In a series of posts, I'll share some thoughts about each of the four dissents to Obergefell v. Hodges.

The "lead" dissent to the case of Obergefell v. Hodges was written by Chief Justice John Roberts. It is actually longer than Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion. Because of its length, I'll discuss it in parts. This first entry covers the introduction (pages 1-3).

Had the Chief been in the majority, he would have written the controlling opinion of the Court. I assume, based on the style of his dissent, that the opinion would have been very similar in content and style. Unlike his fellow dissenters, the Chief takes a very broad, tempered approach. He is at times quite critical of the majority, but, as is his style, he avoids intentional hyperbole and insults.

His dissent opens with praise for the "strong arguments" of the petitioners (the same-sex couples from Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Michigan). But he describes those arguments as political, not legal. Like Judge Jeffrey Sutton in the Sixth Circuit, the Chief immediately frames the question as a legislative one, not a judicial one. As a legislative question, it rests outside the realm of the Court. "Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us," he writes.

Of course, like in the Sixth Circuit, this was not at all the question before the Court. I'll elaborate on that further as we go along.

There are a lot of problems with this paragraph. First, the petitioners did not argue that anyone has a right to "make a State change its definition of marriage." States retain the absolute right to define marriage however they want to define it. But the Constitution gives us individual rights which must be respected by the government, so any definition a state chooses is at least somewhat constrained. Obviously this means some definitions of marriage are not permissible (like a ban on interracial marriage or a requirement that Christians marry only Christians). But acknowledging that states must respect individual liberty does not mean individuals have a right to force states to do anything affirmative, like "change their definition of marriage" to any particular possibility.

The second half of the paragraph relies on the usual ahistorical deceit that the "traditional" marriage of one man and one woman has been a universal, global institution forever. That just isn't true.

The last sentence is also misleading. It treats the choice to expand marriage to include gays and lesbians as a step beyond a benign baseline of opposite-sex marriage. That baseline is not benign. It is restrictive. The laws challenged in Obergefell explicitly exclude a distinct group of people from civil marriage. The true question in the case was whether such exclusions are constitutional, not whether states have an abstract freedom to expand marriage if they want to. Of course they do. Nobody challenged that.

The second half of the next paragraph introduces a theme that will come up more clearly in the last section of the Chief's dissent:

The Chief suggests that the true victim here is the abstract process of democratic debate, and, by extension, that gays have been harmed by its foreclosure. This is of course ridiculous, but I'll discuss why later when I tackle Section IV of his dissent. Simply note here the turns of phrase: "closed the debate," "stealing the issue," and "cast a cloud." These are the harms the Chief seems most worried about, not the purposeful exclusion of a group of people from a fundamental civic institution.

He goes on to criticize the majority for imposing its own personal political whims on the country. Then, this:

This is a very problematic passage, as other commentators have noted. Who do we think we are? We're Americans in 2015. It is a very curious argument that we should be bound forever to the civic rules of an ancient people who engaged in ritual human sacrifice and cannibalism in isolated, agrarian societies.

But absurd historical comparisons aside, what about the idea that including gays and lesbians in civil marriage "transforms" the social institution? This is a typical retort of gay marriage opponents, but it doesn't make sense. The institution of opposite-sex marriage persists even after Obergefell. Straight people are still allowed to be married. Existing straight marriages remain undisturbed. All the wonderful aspects of "traditional" marriage remain fully intact, its purposes affirmed, its benefits in place. It is simply illogical to argue that the institution of marriage may only be preserved by excluding gays and lesbians from sharing in it.

In the next paragraph, the Chief cites Lochner v. New York for the first time. Lochner will get more attention in a later section of the dissent. For now, I'll turn to the second half of the passage:

Another key deceit on which the Chief's dissent turns is that there was a "vibrant debate" in the states before the Court. In Kentucky and the other states involved in Obergefell, there was no debate. The debate in Kentucky, if it can be called that, lasted just a few days in 2004. In a panic following the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts, the Kentucky General Assembly quickly and forcefully pushed through a proposed constitutional amendment to forever exclude same-sex couples from marriage. By November of that year, the democratic process was effectively closed. Regardless of whether some other states were legalizing same-sex marriage legislatively or whether national opinion polls were showing a shift in public sentiment in the lead up to Obergefell, there was no "vibrant debate" in the states actually before the Court. There was no realistic chance that gays and lesbians in the Sixth Circuit would ever enjoy marriage rights. Not within many decades, at least.

The Chief then concludes his introduction with the following:

As I mentioned before, both the Chief and Judge Sutton in the Sixth Circuit base their opinions on a fundamental reshaping of the question before their respective courts. They claim the issue is "who gets to decide?" rather than, "is the decision constitutional?" Nobody challenged whether states can make domestic relations decisions. The challenges in Kentucky and elsewhere weren't declarative actions. They were suits challenging existing laws that took force after the states made decisions on the grounds that those decisions violated the Constitution.

This reshaping of the question was the most frustrating aspect of Judge Sutton's opinion in the Sixth Circuit, and was frustrating to see endorsed by the Chief Justice in his dissent. If you approach marriage restrictions as a question of "who decides," it becomes extremely difficult to reconcile the answer with important precedents like Loving v. Virginia. Had the Court in 1967 merely asked, "who gets to decide if marriage can include interracial couples?" the obvious answer that it is the state's decision to make means Loving was incorrect. Though the Chief (and Judge Sutton before him) go to some lengths to distinguish Loving on the basis of biology, extrapolating their underlying logic compels the conclusion that it is constitutional for states to limit the marital institution to couples of the same race, or to the same religion, or in any other way that the democratic process compels.

I'll explore this more in future posts as I discuss the remaining sections of Chief Justice Robert's dissent.

"Case is Submitted"

On April 28, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the cases consolidated under the name Obergefell v. Hodges, which include two from the state of Kentucky (Bourke v. Beshear and Love v. Beshear).

Those arguments were the culmination of a two-year effort to overturn Kentucky's statutory and constitutional prohibition and denial of recognition of same-sex marriages. That effort included two incredible opinions from federal district judge John Heyburn* which struck down Kentucky's discriminatory laws, as well as a reversal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

I am a member of the five-attorney team who initiated the suit and carried it from the Western District of Kentucky to the highest court in the land. It has been quite a journey to this point. I have attempted to document at least some of it here (click on "Bourke v. Beshear" and "Love v. Beshear" in the menu to the right), and would like to share some snippets from the end run leading up to the arguments themselves.

Choosing the Oralists

Obergefell v. Hodges includes six cases from four states. The case was divided into two questions. The first asks whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The second asks whether that Amendment requires states to recognize same-sex marriages valid in other states or jurisdictions. The Supreme Court asked the large teams of attorneys from each case and state to select no more than one attorney to argue each question.

After a long and strenuous series of negotiations and moot arguments, all the teams agreed that Mary Bonauto would argue Question 1 and Douglas Hallward-Driemeier would argue Question 2 on behalf of the same-sex couples. Both Mary and Doug were experienced, excellent choices and all the couples' attorneys were confident the couples would be well-represented before the Supreme Court.

Filing the Briefs

As the selection process for the oralists was ongoing, the various teams from each state were busy completing their written briefs. The process for Kentucky involved not just the five original local attorneys, but also exceptionally talented attorneys from the ACLU as well as gifted students from the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic led by Professor Jeffrey Fisher (an experienced and well-respected Supreme Court advocate in his own right). This collaborative effort, which involved innumerable drafts and revisions, produced excellent opening and reply briefs.

Meanwhile, amicus briefs from outside groups and individuals were filed on behalf of both the same-sex couples. They seemed to pour in by the truckload, our mail consistently stacked high with thick packets of briefs from all over the country. The eventual pile of filings can be seen below on the desk of my colleague Dan Canon, our Counsel of Record:

Final Argument Preparations

In the week prior to the oral arguments, attorneys from all four states began to converge on Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, April 22, moot arguments for both questions were hosted by Howard University School of Law (alma mater of legendary NAACP lawyer and eventual Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall). Both Mary and Doug faced tough questions from panels of notable attorneys and professors well-versed in both the style of Supreme Court arguments and in the issues likely to be raised by the Justices in their questioning. The questions dealt not just with precedent but also the philosophical enigmas of how state sovereignty, federalism, autonomy, dignity, equality, and liberty should interact with each other.

On Friday, April 24, another moot was held, this time at the Georgetown University Law Center, one of the most prestigious law schools in the country. Again, both Mary and Doug faced panels of constitutional law experts designed to be as tough and unforgiving as possible in order to fully prepare them for the strenuous nature of oral appellate advocacy. Though there were still several days to go, it was clear that our oralists would do well under the pressure.

Having now practiced multiple times and received copious amounts of enlightened feedback from the panelists and their fellow team members, Mary and Doug sequestered themselves for final practice and tweaking. The next few days would be no time to rest for them.


For the rest of the attorneys, work became logistical. We had to make sure all of our clients would have the opportunity to sit inside the courtroom for the oral arguments. Seating is very limited inside the Supreme Court, and because the institution is deeply conservative, there is no live (or even recorded) video footage of oral arguments. If you want to witness the proceedings live, you have to be inside the room.

The Supreme Court is not used to hearing cases which involve dozens of clients and attorneys across multiple states. Obergefell v. Hodges created quite a problem for the marshals, who are responsible for seating attorneys, tour groups, and the public. Initially, they made little effort to accommodate the many families who had put their names and lives on the line to win marriage equality, let alone their many legal advocates. Eventually, though, a compromise was reached. A group of plaintiffs could sit in the court to hear Question 1, then would switch out with a second group of plaintiffs who would sit for Question 2.

Trickier was the question of the attorneys. Kentucky alone listed fourteen lawyers on the signature page of its briefs. Ohio and Tennessee also benefited from large teams of attorneys contributing to the effort. The Supreme Court, unfortunately, had no interest in accommodating all of us. A very small number of passes were distributed among the teams. Attorneys left out (including me) could either wait in the line for Supreme Court attorneys or in the line for the general public if they weren't members of the court's bar.

Members of the general public began lining up on the sidewalk in front of the court building on Friday, April 24. Yes, four full days before oral arguments. The line for attorneys began the next day. The prevailing practice is that attorneys hire line-holders for prominent cases so that they don't sully themselves camping out on the pavement with the huddled masses. For a case as big as Obergefell, members of the various teams representing same-sex couples were forced to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to ensure they would have a spot in the courtroom despite working years on the cases.

Deciding to avoid the trouble of shelling out that kind of money, I instead elected to coordinate the seating of the clients in the courtroom. I would help each group transition in and out for each question and otherwise make sure everyone got where they needed to be. So I would spend the arguments mostly in the Court's cafeteria and first floor hallways.

Argument Day

The weather was sunny and warm on April 28, the day of the arguments. As the many attorneys and plaintiffs arrived at the court building, a huge crowd had already gathered outside. Most people were there to offer support and rally for equality. A smaller portion was there to denounce our clients as sinners and evildoers bent on destroying the fabric of American morality and family life. And of course a huge contingency of press had set up cameras and interview stations. In all, it seemed like thousands of people.

Inside, the court building buzzed with activity. Long lines for attorneys and the public queued in and up the stairs to the courtroom. The first group of clients nervously waited their turn to be escorted by police through multiple layers of security. After lots of patience, they were finally allowed to take their seats. Meanwhile, the second group and I waited downstairs.

Before long, a booming voice rang out from above. A protester had stood up in the courtroom and decried the "abomination" of gay marriage and cursed everyone to hell. It took a long time for security to get him out of the building. The whole time, his barely-intelligible curses echoed from the marble walls, creating a surreal sound of distress and anger.

Shortly the chaos subsided and it was back to business. The first group of clients met me in the cafeteria and the second group headed upstairs to take their place. We were now in the home stretch. Once Question 2 had been argued, the proceedings would be over and we could all exit together for photos and interviews.

Only through some desperate negotiation with the court's chief of police was I able to make that happen, unfortunately. He was very resistant to letting the Question 1 group of plaintiffs rejoin the others upstairs to exit the main door of the building together. Luckily, he relented and out we went as a group.

Immediately upon exiting, we were met by a booming ovation from the crowd below. I had never experienced anything like it before. The photo below can't possibly capture the overwhelming feeling we all got seeing that huge crowd of supporters so elated to see us:

We spent the next couple of hours fielding questions from the press and celebrating the completion of the last big step before the court finally decides the question of gay marriage for the entire country.

The Waiting Game

The only thing left for the plaintiffs and attorneys to do is wait. In the parlance of the Chief Justice, once arguments are completed, the "case is submitted" for the court to make a decision and write the opinion. We expect that will be released on or near the end of the current term, sometime in late June.

You can read the transcripts and listen to the audio of the arguments here.

As I told Insider Louisville, I remain optimistic that we will win and same-sex couples in every state of this great country will finally receive treatment and dignity equal to that which different-sex couples take for granted.

*Sadly, Judge Heyburn passed away on April 29 after a long and courageous battle with cancer.

Amicus Brief Profile: a War of Original Understanding

In a short series, I will profile several individual amicus briefs filed in the same-sex marriage cases currently consolidated before the U.S. Supreme Court and slated for oral argument on April 28, 2015.

In the same-sex marriage cases currently before the Supreme Court (consolidated as Obergefell v. Hodges), over one hundred amicus (or "friend of the court") briefs have been filed. The majority are in support of the petitioners - same-sex couples from Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, and Ohio. Amicus briefs in favor of the respondents - the states - are less in number but no less fervent.

In previous installments, I have profiled one amicus brief at a time. But today, I will profile two. The first is Brief of Amici Curiae Cato Institute, William N. Eskridge Jr., and Steven Calabresi in Support of Petitioners. Along with Eskridge, counsel for these amici is Ilya Shapiro of Cato. The second is Brief of Amici Curiae Scholars of Originalism in Support of Respondents, William C. Duncan of the Marriage Law Foundation as counsel of record.

First, a little background. Steven Calabresi is a Yale Law School graduate who now teaches at Northwestern University. While at Yale, he co-founded the Federalist Society, then went on to clerk for Judge Robert Bork at the D.C. Circuit and Justice Antonin Scalia at the U.S. Supreme Court. Few can rival Professor Calabresi's conservative legal credentials. Ilya Shapiro, similarly, is a big name among libertarian legal scholars, and the Cato Institute has long been a major conservative policy promoter. Professor Eskridge, for his part, has spent many years arguing against anti-gay discrimination in the law.

William Duncan of the Marriage Law Foundation is a conservative activist opposed to same-sex marriage. He writes on behalf of several conservative law professors, including Lawrence Alexander of the University of San Diego, Bruce Frohnen of Ohio Northern University, and George Mason professor Nelson Lund (a frequent writer for the conservative Heritage Foundation).

From that roster of names, you might think the briefs would agree. They do not.

The brief by Eskridge, Calabresi, and Shapiro ("the Cato brief"), was filed on behalf of the Petitioners (the same-sex couples) and therefore first. The "Scholars brief" was filed second, and contrary to standard amicus brief practice (where the amici argue whether the opinion below was right or wrong) it confronts the first brief head-on. In fact, it doesn't address the Sixth Circuit opinion much at all - it restricts its focus to the wrongness of the Cato brief.

So what does the Cato brief actually argue? It approaches the question of same-sex marriage from an "originalist" perspective. Originalism is a method of legal interpretation that seeks - whenever the actual text of a law is silent on a precise issue - to discern what the drafters (or "framers") of a law or constitutional provision either intended or meant to do at the time. There is actually a dispute among originalists whether the intent or the meaning is more important, and that dispute rears its head in these two briefs.

The Cato brief begins by criticizing the Sixth Circuit's opinion, which cited the "original understanding" of the Fourteenth Amendment. That understanding, in Judge Jeffrey Sutton's view, never could have anticipated same-sex marriage and therefore the Amendment does not compel states to recognize such unions. That approach was wrong, the Cato brief argues. The correct focus should be on the "original meaning," or how the "well-established meaning of terminology added to the Constitution in 1868 applies to modern exclusions of new as well as established social groups."

So what is that "original meaning?" Cato argues that it is twofold - that the Equal Protection Clause ensures equal laws and prohibits "caste legislation." Regardless of whether the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment anticipated gay marriage per se, the meaning of the broad language they enshrined in the constitution is clear: the government could not then and cannot now deny equal protection to castes of unpopular or undesirable citizens.

This "original meaning" is illuminated by underlying principles which are fixed but must be applied to new situations as they arise:

The Cato brief then addresses several contrary assertions. First, it disputes that the Fourteenth Amendment should be viewed through a "narrow, race-based view," on two bases: that equal protection was a concept embraced broadly by Americans prior to the Civil War and drafts of the Amendment which restricted its protections to issues of race were rejected in favor of broader language.

The Sixth Circuit held that gay marriage bans were rational because they merely codified long-established views about marriage. The Cato brief argues the opposite - the bans are constitutionally suspect because they are "new expressions of anti-gay attitudes that dominated American public law in the 20th Century." And simply because gay people were not identified as a distinct category of person in 1868 does not make them any less distinct today. In fact, by the 1950s they were distinguished as a criminal class by anti-sodomy laws. Therefore, Cato argues, the Fourteenth Amendment protects them from governmental attack.


The Cato brief then concludes by attacking the various state justifications for discriminatory marriage bans in much the same way that the Petitioners themselves have done.*

The Scholars brief launches into a direct attack on the Cato brief in its very first sentence, arguing that the latter is "contrary to what nearly everyone had until recently supposed" about "the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment."

The Scholars criticize Cato's distinction between "original understanding" and "original meaning," calling it "untenable" and not based on either of the predominant originalist approaches toward intent or meaning. Yet, even accepting Cato's interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment (as a general prohibition of class legislation), the state marriage bans do not run afoul of it because they are a benign adoption of "a traditional conception of marriage."

On the first subject, the Scholars write:

The Scholars brush aside the internal debate among originalists regarding intent vs. meaning. Both approaches attempt to discern the "original understanding" of a law or constitutional provision.

Of course, the Scholars admit, laws prohibiting theft enacted centuries ago aren't restricted to theft of goods that existed at the time. It is just as illegal to steal a cell phone as it is a wood-burning stove. But that's not the point. The Fourteenth Amendment, they say, could not be designed to prevent class legislation such as the states' marriage bans because nearly every law applies to classes of people in some form or another. And even though class distinctions historically considered suspect (race, religion, ancestry) are foreclosed in most cases, the Fourteenth Amendment can't possibly extend to gay marriage bans because those laws don't really single out and mistreat people based on sexual orientation:

The Scholars brief echos the Kentucky brief by arguing that "persons of any sexual orientation are wholly free to marry if they so choose." Or, conversely, both gay people and straight people are equally prohibited from marrying people of the same sex. This is an echo of the arguments made in favor of interracial marriage bans prior to Loving v. Virginia. According to the defenders of anti-miscegenation statutes, those laws were not discriminatory because both whites and blacks were prohibited from marrying people of a different race. In Loving, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected this argument.

Perhaps acknowledging the obvious historical parallel, the Scholars attempt to distinguish Loving. First, interracial marriage bans didn't define marriage, they argue. Second, bans on interracial marriages "accepted the traditional and legal conception of what marriage is" (two people of different sexes), but then wrongly imposed race-based restrictions on which different-sex couples could enter the institution. The two situations are clearly different, the Scholars say, because gay people are fully allowed to enter different-sex marriages.

It is worth noting here that, aside from the fact that this argument precludes gay people from marrying people they actually desire to marry, it conflicts with originalist interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment prior to Loving. In 1966, the Virginia Law Review published an article by Alfred Avins titled "Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: the Original Intent." "I believe that once the original understanding and intent of the framers is ascertained, the inquiry [as to the constitutionality of interracial marriage bans] should be at an end," Avins wrote.

So what was the "original understanding and intent" of the Fourteenth Amendment's framers? Avins explores debates within Congress beginning in 1864. It turns out that the framers made many references to interracial marriage in their discussions, mostly dismissive. As Avins explains:

In other words, Congressmen at the time easily dispatched slippery slope warnings from their racist colleagues because they did not intend - or mean - at all for the Fourteenth Amendment to compel an end to interracial marriage bans.

Avins provides quote after quote, mostly from the 39th Congress of 1866. Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull, a major proponent of both the Fourteenth Amendment and the ill-fated Civil Rights Act, took great pains to distinguish the future impact of the new protections from the elimination of anti-miscegenation laws:

And on and on. Avins makes a very strong case that the original intent (or meaning) of the Fourteenth Amendment was not for the end of anti-miscegenation laws at all. Rather, it fully accepted a prohibition of interracial marriage as one that equally applied to all and was therefore constitutional.

It is hard to argue, therefore, that from an originalist perspective, Loving v. Virginia was correct. If, as the Scholars brief argues, we should not take an abstract approach to discern the underlying principles of the Fourteenth Amendment, and instead must focus on the intent and meaning of the framers from their contemporary worldview, then Loving simply cannot be correct, let alone any future ruling in favor of gay marriage.

And such is the problem with originalism. While perhaps quite useful when interpreting statutes and provisions governing the regulation of commerce, or national security, or the separation of powers, the doctrine fails miserably at illuminating the constitutional rights of individuals. The original Constitution and Bill of Rights were framed when only land-holding white men could vote or hold office. Slavery was legal. Women were the property of their fathers or husbands. In the realm of individual rights, relying on the intent or meaning of those framers necessitates a deference to a power structure we now view as abhorrent and unjust. Even the Reconstruction amendments, protecting the rights of blacks to vote and ensuring due process and equal protection under state laws, were framed by people with a profoundly different concept of civil rights and individual liberty than the one we hold today. We should rely on them to define the Constitution forever?

The Cato brief is a welcome departure from this strict view. It embraces an underlying principle of equality that, judging from the words the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment actually used, protects everyone from class-based legislation such as gay marriage bans. Whether or not this new perspective can be called "originalist," I don't know. I'm inclined to agree with the Scholars that it is not. But that's OK. If an originalist perspective cannot find in the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment an individual right to marry the person of your choice, then what good is it? Whose interest does it serve?

*Of note is the Conclusion section of the Cato brief, which I will discuss in a subsequent post.

Amicus Brief Profile: Constitutional Accountability Center

In a short series, I will profile several individual amicus briefs filed in the same-sex marriage cases currently consolidated before the U.S. Supreme Court and slated for oral argument on April 28, 2015.

In the same-sex marriage cases currently before the Supreme Court (consolidated as Obergefell v. Hodges), already nearly one hundred amicus (or "friend of the court") briefs have been filed. The vast majority so far are in support of the petitioners - same-sex couples from Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, and Ohio. Amicus briefs in favor of the respondents - the states - are due at the end of March.

One of the amicus briefs in favor of the petitioners was filed by the Constitutional Accountability Center through counsel Elizabeth B. Wydra, Douglas Kendall, David Gans, and Judith Schaeffer.

The brief tackles three constitutional topics: the Supremacy Clause of Article IV, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the general conflict between democracy and constitutional provisions.

The second section specifically focuses on the "text and history of the Equal Protection Clause" to discern its "original meaning." Why is this significant? It is significant because discerning the "original meaning" of a law or constitutional provision is one of the chief concerns of the Originalist approach to judicial interpretation, an approach followed by Supreme Court Justices such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Based on their past dissents in cases such as Lawrence v. Texas and U.S. v. Windsor, observers expect Justices Scalia and Thomas to oppose the idea that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. So this amicus brief reads as though it is specifically appealing to their perspectives and approaches to the question.

As a quick note without going down a deep explanatory rabbit hole, be aware that there is debate whether Originalism should focus on the "original intent" of the people who wrote, passed, or ratified a law compared to the "original meaning" of the words that actually comprise the law. Justice Scalia, for example, has said that the correct approach is to discern the meaning rather than the intent.

With Justice Scalia's perspective apparently in mind, the amicus brief tackles the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment and cites the Congressional record from 1866 (the period of time when the Amendment was being debated and framed).

The amicus brief argues that the meaning of the words, written quite broadly, were originally meant to be interpreted broadly:

Attempting to clarify the "original meaning" of the Fourteenth Amendment is not just a ploy to sway certain Justices. It's also directly responsive to the Sixth Circuit's opinion which ruled in favor of the state marriage bans and led to the current Supreme Court case. Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the Sixth Circuit wrote in that opinion that "the people who adopted the Fourteenth Amendment [never] understood it to require the States to change the definition of marriage." DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F.3d 388, 403 (6th Cir. 2014).

The amicus brief criticizes this as the wrong analysis. What matters is the meaning of the text, "not the subjective expectations of the lawmakers in Congress or the people in the states who ratified the document." After all, the brief argues, the wording of the Amendment is broad and contains no enumeration of the rights it protects.

Though ratified just after the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment's text was designed by its framers to formally codify the expansive liberty proclamation of the Declaration of Independence:

CAC 2.jpg

The brief points out that the perception among framers like John Bingham was that the Fourteenth Amendment meant equal protection of "life and liberty and property" of all Americans regardless of any classification state laws may draw.

Ultimately, the brief concludes that the Sixth Circuit was wrong because the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment's text, rather than the original intent of its individual framers who may not have, 150 years ago, conceived of a future where same-sex couples would seek civil marriage rights, should control. The Supreme Court should read a "sweeping, universal guarantee of equality," rather than any narrower interpretation that enumerates some liberty interests but resigns the rest to state democratic control.

This focus on the history and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment (as compared to the history of homosexual discrimination, for example) is not unique to this brief. Others address the same topic. I will profile at least one more in a future installment.