US Supreme Court Declines to Hear Same-Sex Marriage Cases

On Monday, October 6, 2014, the United States Supreme Court declined to decide whether states have the right to ban gay marriage. The court rejected appeals that prohibited gay marriage, without comment, leaving intact the lower-court rulings striking down these bans. This move allowed gay men and women the right to get married in five additional states: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, which brings the total to 24 states that now permit gay marriage.

The shift towards the courts’ approval of gay marriage began in June of 2013 when the Supreme Court justices decided Windsor v. United States. The justices in Windsor voted 5-4 to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between one man and one woman for the purpose of federal government benefits. The shift in public opinion to supporting gay marriage is also relatively recent, with Massachusetts being the first state to allow gay marriage in 2004.

Some proponents of gay marriage continue to fight, arguing that the delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination and continues the harms and indignity that the denial of marriage still inflicts on too many couples in too many places. Opponents of gay marriage also continue to fight, arguing that the people should decide this issue, not the courts. Many people on both sides of the issue are ready for the Supreme Court to make a final decision, arguing that the justices have an obligation to settle an issue of such national importance and not abdicate that responsibility to the lower court judges.

On the other hand, the denial in itself makes a statement that proponents are beginning to embrace. Same-sex marriage will soon be legal in six more states based on regional federal appellate court rulings: Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

The Supreme Court did not explain why it was not taking up this controversial issue, but it will most likely not rule on the matter anytime soon. Some states are still litigating the issue, while others have accepted the rulings applicable to them and are no longer defending same-sex marriage bans.

By: Molly McClure, Reference Assistant

Justice Sonia Sotomayor – LibGuide

In preparation for Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s visit to Oklahoma City University School of Law on 9/11/14, the Law Library has put together a LibGuide about her that can be found here. It features details about her visit, biographical information, and links to articles and books about her.

As a reminder, limited tickets are available for community members wishing to attend the public conversation between Justice Sotomayor, School of Law Dean Valerie Couch, and Oklahoma City University President Robert Henry – instructions for reserving tickets can be found here.

Oklahoma City University School of Law Welcomes Justice Sonia Sotomayor on 9/11/14

Oklahoma City University School of Law has the pleasure of hosting the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor on September 11, 2014. During her visit, Justice Sotomayor will engage in a public conversation with University President Robert Henry and School of Law Dean Valerie Couch at 5 p.m. in the Kirkpatrick Auditorium. Limited tickets for the public to attend this unique opportunity are available here. (All Oklahoma City University School of Law students, faculty, and staff have tickets being held in reserve.) Justice Sotomayor will also be visiting The University of Tulsa College of Law and The University of Oklahoma College of Law while in Oklahoma.

Justice Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, New York. She earned a B.A. in 1976 from Princeton University and graduated summa cum laude. She earned a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she also served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Justice Sotomayor was an Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office for 5 years, and she went on to litigate international commercial matters in New York City. In 1991, President Bush nominated her for the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, where she stayed until 1998 when she was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Justice Sotomayor was nominated by President Obama for the United States Supreme Court in May of 2009, and she assumed her role as an Associate Justice in August of 2009.

Please join us in welcoming Justice Sotomayor to our law school!

– By Molly McClure, Reference Assistant, and Sabrina Davis, Reference Librarian

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby – What the Justices Said

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of its most anticipated decisions of the term today in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which it held in a 5-4 ruling that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the federal government from requiring “closely held corporations [to] provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners.” (Opinion, p. 1). The basis for this decision was that “the regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.” (Id., pp. 1-2).

With regard to the substantial burden, the Court held that “the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion . . . . [because] [t]he owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price—as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies.” (Id., p. 2). Justice Ginsburg delivered a dissent (joined by Justice Sotomayor in full and in part by Justices Breyer and Kagan), in which she states that the “the connection between the families’ religious objections and the contraceptive coverage requirement is too attenuated to rank as substantial” (Dissent, p. 22) and that “It is doubtful that Congress, when it specified that burdens must be ‘substantia[l],’ had in mind a linkage thus interrupted by independent decisionmakers (the woman and her health counselor) standing between the challenged government action and the religious exercise claimed to be infringed.” (Dissent, p. 23).

As highlighted in Justice Kennedy’s concurrence, a less restrictive alternative is purported to be available because “in other instances the Government has allowed the same contraception coverage in issue here to be provided to employees of nonprofit religious organizations, as an accommodation to the religious objections of those entities . . . . by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it.” (Concurrence, p. 3). According to the dissent, this reasoning would lead to there always being a less restrictive alternative “whenever, in lieu of tolling an enterprise claiming a religion-based exemption, the government, i.e., the general public, can pick up the tab.” (Dissent, pp. 1-2). After reviewing the proffered alternatives, Justice Ginsburg concludes that none “would satisfactorily serve the compelling interests to which Congress responded” when they provided for “comprehensive preventive care for women furnished through employer-based health plans” (Dissent, p. 31).