Supreme Court Rejects Reviewing Indiana Same-Sex Cases
By: Lakeshore Staff
October 6, 2014 — The United States Supreme Court at the beginning of its new term will not decide the question of state authority to define marriage as an institution between one man and one woman. The Court declined today to accept the cases of Indiana and four other states that had appealed legal challenges to their marriage statutes. The denial of the five states’ cert petitions means a federal appeals court ruling invalidating Indiana’s marriage statute can take effect and a stay order that had blocked implementation of that ruling will be lifted soon, meaning county clerks will be required by federal court order to issue marriage licenses to otherwise eligible same-sex applicants.
“Defending Indiana’s statute at trial and on appeal was our duty as attorney for our state government and was necessary. Our legal system is based on the bedrock principle that both sides in a dispute will be zealously represented by counsel who will advocate for their clients so that the courts can weigh the arguments and decide. Our constitutional process for testing the validity of statutes worked as intended, and Indiana’s legal defense has been conducted with civility and respect for all sides and within existing resources,” Zoeller said.
As lawyer for the state government defendants, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office defended the Indiana marriage statute in the consolidated lawsuit Baskin et al. v. Bogan et al. that plaintiffs’ lawyers filed against the State in March. In Evansville on June 25, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Richard L. Young ruled the statute unconstitutional, but the State appealed and Young’s ruling was stayed by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on June 27. The 7th Circuit affirmed Judge Young’s ruling invalidating the statute but stayed implementation of its own ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court announced whether it would accept the appeal Indiana filed. Both sides in the Baskin case had encouraged Supreme Court review, either of Indiana’s case or another state’s case.
The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court held a private conference Sept. 29 to determine many cases it would hear this term, including several same-sex marriage cases. The states of Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana each had appealed lower court rulings that struck down their states’ marriage statutes. The Supreme Court had the choice of accepting the appeals of all, some or none of the five states in a total of seven cases, or of holding over its decision to a later date. Today the Court denied certiorari to all five states.
The result is the 7th Circuit now can issue a mandate in the Baskin case – essentially, an order that the 7th Circuit’s earlier ruling can take effect. Once a mandate is issued by the 7th Circuit – which could happen later this week – county clerk’s offices will be required by federal court order to issue marriage licenses to otherwise eligible same-sex applicants, and same-sex marriages previously granted by other states will be legally recognized in Indiana.
Throughout the lawsuit the Indiana Attorney General’s Office has communicated with county clerks in the 92 Indiana counties and will do so again in order to minimize chaos and confusion at local courthouses as a result of the U.S. District Court’s June 25 injunction in the lawsuit that plaintiffs’ lawyers brought against the State.
Three other cases challenging Indiana’s marriage statute still are pending in the federal courts, two of which were stayed pending Indiana’s appeal to the Supreme Court in the Baskin case. Each now will be resolved consistent with the 7th Circuit’s mandate in the Baskin case.
Although Indiana’s appeal in the Baskin case is concluded, there still are legal challenges pending in the 6th Circuit and 9th Circuit to the marriage laws of other states, and it is possible that the U.S. Supreme Court could consider an appeal of one of those marriage cases yet this term or in a future term.
In defending Indiana’s marriage statute and the state defendants as its duty from the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ lawsuit, the Attorney General’s Office has provided a defense through its existing office budget the Legislature approved in advance. The case is assigned to an on-staff salaried attorney who does not charge billable hours. Unlike other states, Indiana did not use outside counsel to defend its statute.
The current circumstance has its roots in the U.S. Supreme Court’s dual decisions of June 2013. In the U.S. v. Windsor case, the Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. But in the Hollingsworth v. Perry case challenging the State of California’s law, the Court declined to rule on state marriage definitions. The reason: The California statute had not been defended by the state’s lawyer, California’s attorney general, and the private attorneys who attempted to defend the law lacked legal standing. Zoeller noted the failure of the proper lawyer – the state attorney general — to defend California’s law caused the Supreme Court in June 2013 to punt the issue back to the states, and opened the floodgates to challenges filed in multiple states in the 16 months since.
“Our nation and all sides involved needed a conclusive Supreme Court ruling to bring finality to the legal question of state authority to adhere to the traditional definition of marriage. Although it is unfortunate the Court did not accept the question and has again left states stuck in the limbo of uncertainty, ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final word on the subject of state authority to regulate marriage. Strong opinions exist on all sides of this issue but we continue to urge Hoosiers to show respect for the Court, the attorneys, the county clerks and the rule of law while this complicated process plays out,” Zoeller said.