CA Bankruptcy Court Rules DOMA Unconstitutional
The Debtors have demonstrated that DOMA violates their equal protection rights afforded under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, either under heightened scrutiny or under rational basis review. Debtors also have demonstrated that there is no valid governmental basis for DOMA. In the end, the court finds that DOMA violates the equal protection rights of the Debtors as recognized under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.
No one expressed the Debtors’ view as pertinent to this simple bankruptcy case more eloquently and profoundly than Justice William O. Douglas in the concluding paragraph of his opinion for the majority in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 486 (1965):We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights—older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not in political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions. Id.
[More . . .]
Upon consideration of the pleadings and all other materials filed in this case, and for good cause shown, the court finds that the Debtors satisfy every legal requirement to pursue their joint petition as filed pursuant to § 302(a). For the reasons stated herein and in the Debtors’ Opposition to the Motion and Debtors’ supporting authorities, the Motion to Dismiss Debtors’ chapter 13 case based on § 1307(c) is denied.
Significantly, the opinion was signed by 20 judges of the Central District of California bankruptcy court, something I have never seen before (this was not an en banc appeals court.) It is a political statement as well as a judicial statement.
The California court chose to decide the DOMA issue here. Unlike a previous bankruptcy case I discussed here, the California court did not avoid the constitutional question (whether it should have as an act of constitutional avoidance is another matter.)
In terms of the constitutional reasoning, it is defensible. The court relied heavily on the Department of Justice's policy letter on not defending DOMA in circuits where its constitutional validity has been questioned. The House of Representatives sought the right to intervene but then strangely did not submit a brief to the court.
This question may go up the ladder of appeals, but I doubt it will be as a result of an appeal by the United States Trustee for the judicial district (though the United States Trustee in the Sommers case discussed in my linked post was appealed) , which is under the supervision of the Department of Justice. If the House chooses to attempt to do so, it will face the difficulty of not having presented arguments before the bankruptcy court, though it may, one supposes, adopt the arguments made by the United States Trustee.
This is a significant development.
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