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Fighting DOMA, Edie Windsor Now Takes Her Case To The Supreme Court

by David Badash on July 16, 2012

in Civil Rights,DOMA,Marriage,News,Politics

Post image for Fighting DOMA, Edie Windsor Now Takes Her Case To The Supreme Court

Edie Windsor, fresh off the heels of a federal district court win, is now petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on her case that has already found DOMA to be unconstitutional. Windsor, now 83, is working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

READ: DOMA Ruled ‘Unconstitutional’ In Lesbian Estate Tax Case

In 2007, New York resident Edie Windsor married her partner of more than 40 years, Thea Spyer, in Canada, and when Spyer died, was forced by the U.S. Government to pay over $353,053 tax  in federal estate taxes, merely because the U.S. Government — because of DOMA — in not allowed to recognize her marriage.

Windsor, in Windsor v. United States, won her case and the government was directed to refund her $363,000.

The Huffington Post reports that today, “lawyers filed a petition on behalf of Edith ‘Edie’ Windsor, an 83-year-old lesbian from New York, asking the Supreme Court to review her case, thus bypassing a second round in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case is scheduled to appear next.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration asked the high court to review two other cases challenging DOMA’s constitutionality. With Windsor’s petition, there are now three cases, from three of the most significant gay marriage states, that could challenge DOMA at the Supreme Court as early as next spring, if the court consents to hear them.

On the phone Monday, Windsor told The Huffington Post that she never dreamed her lawsuit would get this far. At family breakfasts, Windsor said, two 10-year-old cousins have started asking her every morning, “Is it in the Supreme Court?”

“I tell them, ‘We don’t know yet. Not today. But we hope we will be there, and I’ll let you know when,’” Windsor said.

When U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jones ruled in Windsor’s favor last month, Windsor said she walked around, looking at all the photographs of Spyer displayed on the walls of her New York home.

Windsor said she was thrilled about how wide-reaching the implications of her case could be for other same-sex couples. But her first reaction was, “I need to tell Thea immediately,” she recalled. “So I walked around, looking at the pictures and I said, ‘Oh honey, look what’s happening.’”

Noting that the ACLU “has struck out in a different direction from the Obama Administration on a key question of legal strategy,” Chris Geidner, writing at Buzzfeed, today in a lengthy examination, adds:

In today’s filing, the ACLU argues that the case presents “a question of exceptional national importance,” stating, “DOMA has been held unconstitutional by federal courts in three circuits. The Government has declined to defend its constitutionality, but continues to enforce the statute pending resolution by this Court. Thus, individuals like [Windsor] continue to suffer serious consequences from the Government’s failure to recognize their lawfully solemnized marriages.”

The House Republican leadership-controlled Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group and the Department of Justice already have weighed in asking the court to take two other cases challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. The House GOP leadership has been defending DOMA’s constitutionality since the Obama Administration stopped defending the law’s federal marriage definition in February of 2011.

Today, Windsor’s lawyers are telling the Supreme Court that her case is the one the court should take. As the Obama Administration did earlier this month in another DOMA challenge, the ACLU is asking the Supreme Court to take the unusual step of hearing the case before a federal appeals court rules on it.

Joined by a high-powered law firm – the lead lawyer for the ACLU’s case is Roberta Kaplan, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison – and one of the leading liberal law professors in the country, Stanford Law School’s Pam Karlan, the ACLU is pressing the argument that Windsor’s challenge “presents an excellent vehicle” for deciding DOMA’s constitutionality.

The main reason for this, the ACLU’s legal team argues, is that the GOP leaders “acknowledged that [Windsor] ‘has submitted documents that, if accurate, establish … the estate would not have been liable for federal estate tax, if Spyer had been married to a surviving male U.S. citizen at the time of her death.’” In other words, the Republican filing acknowledged that, without DOMA, Windsor wouldn’t have owed taxes and there would have been no case.

A week before the ruling in Windsor’s case, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston held that DOMA was unconstitutional in another pair of challenges to the law, brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D), and involving several couples challenging the law. And a California judge struck down the law earlier this year in a case brought by an employee of the federal courts, Karen Golinski, who was denied spousal health insurance benefits for her wife. Golinski’s case, brought by Lambda Legal, is now on appeal before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


Video of Edie Windsor discussing her court win in June:

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{ 1 comment }

Goose09 July 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Thanks for the good article and good news NCRM. Always good to hear about progress, and congratulations to Edie on her victory.

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