subscribe: Posts | Comments | Email

Scalia nails it.

2 comments
“Some might conclude that this loaf could have used awhile longer in the oven. But that would be wrong; it is already overcooked.” -Justice Antonin Scalia

For those who have neither the time or inclination to make your way through today’s Supreme Court opinions (majority and three dissents), you can get inside scoop while being entertained if you just read Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent. I have included a condensed version of Scalia’s dissent below. If you are more enterprising and want to read more, here is the link to the Supreme Court’s opinions. Just click on United States v. Windsor.

I especially recommend Scalia’s opinion to all of you word-smiths and connoisseurs of good writing. Scalia is one of the best legal writers this country has produced, and I am not the only one to hold that opinion. Back when I was still with the Justice Department, I attended a national Appellate Chief’s conference. One of the speakers was a law professor whose bailiwick was exclusively legal writing. He had a Juris Doctor as well as a Ph. D. in grammar. When asked whom we should read if we wanted to read great legal writing, he said, “Read Scalia, especially when he is on the dissent, but don’t listen to anything he says.” Obviously, this professor did not share Scalia’s “original intent” approach to jurisprudence, but he knew great legal writing when he saw it.

Condensed version of Justice Scalia’s dissent

This case is about power in several respects. It is about the power of our people to govern themselves, and the power of this Court to pronounce the law. Today’s opinion aggrandizes the latter, with the predictable consequence of diminishing the former. We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.

The Court is eager—hungry—to tell everyone its view of the legal question at the heart of this case. Standing in the way is an obstacle, a technicality of little interest to anyone but the people of We the People, who created it as a barrier against judges’ intrusion into their lives. They gave judges, in Article III, only the “judicial Power,” a power to decide not abstract questions but real, concrete “Cases” and “Controversies.” Yet the plaintiff and the Government agree entirely on what should happen in this lawsuit. They agree that the court below got it right; and they agreed in the court below that the court below that one got it right as well. What, then, are we doing here? (Scalia, dissent, Slip Op. at 1-2.)

*  *  *

The Court says that we have the power to decide this case because if we did not, then our “primary role in determining the constitutionality of a law” . . . would “become only secondary to the President’s.” But wait, the reader wonders—Windsor won below, and so cured her injury, and the President was glad to see it. True, says the majority, but judicial review must march on regardless, lest we “undermine the clear dictate of the separation-of-powers principle that when an Act of Congress is alleged to conflict with the Constitution, it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” That is jaw-dropping. It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and every- where “primary” in its role. This image of the Court would have been unrecognizable to those who wrote and ratified our national charter. (Ibid. at 2 (citations and footnotes omitted).)

 *  *  *

The further proceedings have been a contrivance, having no object in mind except to elevate a District Court judgment that has no precedential effect in other courts, to one that has precedential effect . . . throughout the United States. (Ibid. at 5.)

 *  *  *

There are many remarkable things about the majority’s merits holding. The first is how rootless and shifting its justifications are. For example, the opinion starts with seven full pages about the traditional power of States to define domestic relations . . . . But no one questions the power of the States to define marriage . . . , so what is the point of devoting seven pages to describing how long and well established that power is? . . . The opinion never explains. My guess is that the majority, while reluctant to suggest that defining the meaning of “marriage” in federal statutes is unsupported by any of the Federal Government’s enumerated powers,nonetheless needs some rhetorical basis to support its pretense that today’s prohibition of laws excluding same-sex marriage is confined to the Federal Government (leaving the second, state-law shoe to be dropped later, maybe next Term). (Ibid. at 15-16 (citations and footnotes omitted).)

*  *  *

Some might conclude that this loaf could have used awhile longer in the oven. But that would be wrong; it is already overcooked. (Ibid. at 18.)

*  *  *

The majority concludes that the only motive for this Act was the “bare . . . desire to harm a politically unpopular group.” . . .  Laying such a charge . . . should require the most extraordinary evidence, and I would have thought that every attempt would be made to indulge a more anodyne explanation for the statute. The majority does the opposite—affirmatively concealing from the reader the arguments that exist in justification. It makes only a passing mention of the “arguments put forward” by the Act’s defenders, and does not even trouble to paraphrase or describe them.  I imagine that this is because it is harder to maintain the illusion of the Act’s supporters as unhinged members of a wild-eyed lynch mob when one first describes their views as they see them.

To choose just one of these defenders’ arguments, DOMA avoids difficult choice-of-law issues that will now arise absent a uniform federal definition of marriage.  Imagine a pair of women who marry in Albany and then move to Alabama, which does not “recognize as valid any marriage of parties of the same sex.” When the couple files their next federal tax return, may it be a joint one? Which State’s law controls, for federal-law purposes: their State of celebration (which recognizes the marriage) or their State of domicile (which does not)? (Does the answer depend on whether they were just visiting in Albany?) . . .  And what about States where the status of an out-of-state same-sex marriage is an unsettled question under local law? DOMA avoided all of this uncertainty by specifying which marriages would be recognized for federal purposes. That is a classic purpose for a definitional provision.

Further, DOMA preserves the intended effects of prior legislation against then-unforeseen changes in circumstance. When Congress provided (for example) that a special estate-tax exemption would exist for spouses, this exemption reached only opposite-sex spouses—those being the only sort that were recognized in any State at the time of DOMA’s passage. When it became clear that changes instate law might one day alter that balance, DOMA’s definitional section was enacted to ensure that state-level experimentation did not automatically alter the basic operation of federal law, unless and until Congress made the further judgment to do so on its own. That is not animus—just stabilizing prudence.   . . .

The Court mentions none of this. Instead, it . . .  says that the supporters of this Act acted with malice—with the “purpose” “to disparage and to injure” same-sex couples. It says that the motivation for DOMA was to “demean,” to “impose inequality,” to “impose . . . a stigma,” to deny people “equal dignity,” to brand gay people as “unworthy,” and to “humiliat[e]” their children.   . . .

[T]o defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” ”injure,” “degrade,” ”demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race. (Ibid. at 19-21 (citations and footnotes omitted).)

*  *  *

The penultimate sentence of the majority’s opinion is a naked declaration that “[t]his opinion and its holding are confined” to those couples “joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State.” I have heard such “bald, unreasoned disclaimer[s]” before. When the Court declared a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy, we were assured that the case had nothing, nothing at all to do with “whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.” Now we are told that DOMA is invalid because it “demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects.” It takes real cheek for today’s majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here—when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority’s moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress’s hateful moral judgment against it. I promise you this: The only thing that will “confine” the Court’s holding is its sense of what it can get away with. (Ibid. at 21-22 (citations and footnotes omitted).)

*  *  *

In sum, that Court which finds it so horrific that Congress irrationally and hatefully robbed same-sex couples of the “personhood and dignity” which state legislatures conferred upon them, will of a certitude be similarly appalled by state legislatures’ irrational and hateful failure to acknowledge that “personhood and dignity” in the first place. As far as this Court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe.

By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition. Henceforth those challengers will lead with this Court’s declaration that there is “no legitimate purpose” served by such a law, and will claim that the traditional definition has “the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure” the “personhood and dignity”of same-sex couples. The majority’s limiting assurance will be meaningless in the face of language like that, as the majority well knows. That is why the language is there. The result will be a judicial distortion of our society’s debate over marriage—a debate that can seem in need of our clumsy “help” only to a member of this institution. (Ibid. at 24 (citations and footnotes omitted).)

*  *  *

We might have covered ourselves with honor today, by promising all sides of this debate that it was theirs to settle and that we would respect their resolution. We might have let the People decide. But that the majority will not do. Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better. (Ibid. at 25-26 (citations and footnotes omitted).)

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Mixx
  • MySpace
  • Reddit
  • RSS
  1. Ben Rossell says:

    Scalia dissents – always great!

  2. This article is very informative but it took me a long time
    to find it in google. I found it on 19 spot, you should focus on quality backlinks building, it will help
    you to increase traffic. And i know how to help you, just search in google – k2 seo tips and tricks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *