CA Bankruptcy Court Rules DOMA Unconstitutional

Decision here (PDF). The key grafs:

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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  • Display: Sort:
    Really interesting. One of the approx. (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by oculus on Tue Jun 14, 2011 at 12:06:28 PM EST
    18,000 same sex legal marriages in CA.  Government's objection doesn't fit within the statute and no catch-all provision.  Government doesn't follow up with briefing.  All the court's judges decide not to dismiss the objection on procedural grounds.  Yes, change is a comin.  Bravo.  

    The government seemed to (none / 0) (#2)
    by KeysDan on Tue Jun 14, 2011 at 12:10:12 PM EST
    ignore Holder's letter, but the Court did not.

    So what the heck is taking so long (none / 0) (#3)
    by MyLeftMind on Tue Jun 14, 2011 at 12:31:22 PM EST
    in other states? Even NY can't get a domestic partnership law passed...

    Stay tuned to New York (none / 0) (#4)
    by andgarden on Tue Jun 14, 2011 at 12:36:50 PM EST
    Cuomo may pull a rabbit out of his hat very soon.

    EDCA Bankruptcy Judge Decision (none / 0) (#5)
    by John95816 on Tue Jun 14, 2011 at 01:16:00 PM EST
    A bankruptcy judge from the E.D. Cal. also ruled that a gay couple could proceed as married spouses in their bankruptcy action.  

    Can you provide the name and date (none / 0) (#8)
    by Peter G on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 09:11:53 AM EST
    or citation of that E.D.Cal. case, please?

    Cited in this case (none / 0) (#10)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 10:09:50 AM EST
    Did not rule on DOMA, just refused to dismiss the bankruptcy petition.

    Selective rewriting of history (none / 0) (#6)
    by diogenes on Tue Jun 14, 2011 at 06:21:39 PM EST
    In fact, the age-old traditions of marriage which predate the Bill of Rights included polygamy, in many cultures.  The phrase "a bilateral loyalty", is selective.

    wow (none / 0) (#7)
    by nolo on Tue Jun 14, 2011 at 07:04:49 PM EST
    I have never seen such a thing -- twenty judges signing on to what is, in essence, a trial court opinion.  It's pretty monumental.  Like Andrew Sullivan says, know hope.

    It's rare, but not unprecedented. (none / 0) (#9)
    by Peter G on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 09:21:28 AM EST
    In 1987, all the district judges of the Southern District of Florida, IIRC, joined in an "en banc" trial court decision holding the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and thus its then-new Guidelines, unconstitutional on separation of powers grounds.  (The Supreme Court in 1989, by vote of 8-1, disagreed in the Mistretta case, holding that creation of the Commission did not constitute either an excessive delegation of legislative power or a violation of the separation of powers doctrine.)