LGBT rights take center stage at Supreme Court: What to expect this week
On Monday the United States Supreme Court returns from its summer break. From their very first day back on the job, the justices will begin considering what is surely the largest number of LGBT equality cases that they have ever faced in a single term.
And these aren’t just any cases, either. The cases on the Court’s fall docket have the potential to become watershed moments in the history of the LGBT movement.
Depending on what the justices do over the next several weeks, marriage equality may soon be restored in California, the Court may be on its way to striking down a destructive and discriminatory law that denies federal benefits to every married same-sex couple in America, and an important precedent about same-sex domestic partners could be set.
So here’s a breakdown of what to expect.
The Supreme Court Conference
First, some background: The Supreme Court is not required to accept all the cases it is asked to review. In fact, it rarely accepts more than 100 or so of the thousands of cases it is asked to hear each year. The justices hold a conference several times a month at which they vote on whether or not to accept cases that they have been asked to review.
If they take a case, they set the case for argument within a few months and generally issue their decision no later than the last day of the term, in June. If they do not accept a case, the decision of the lower court stands and becomes the final ruling in the case. The justices also have the option to postpone deciding whether to take a case and consider it at a later conference.
On Monday, Sept. 24, the justices will hold their first conference of the new term. It’s a lengthy agenda, given that it includes all the cases that the Court has been asked to review since they held their last conference before the summer break.
Three of this year’s potential landmark LGBT equality cases are on that Sept. 24 agenda. The first is the decision of the Ninth Circuit court of appeals earlier this year to uphold Judge Vaughn Walker’s 2010 ruling striking down California’s Proposition 8, which banned marriage for same-sex couples in that state.
The second is a decision from the U.S. District Court in New York striking down Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits the federal government from recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples for any purpose, such as Social Security spousal benefits. The Court has also been asked to review three other challenges to DOMA, and those cases will be on the Court’s conference calendar in the coming weeks.
The third is another Ninth Circuit ruling, which said that an Arizona law that stripped domestic partner benefits from state employees is very likely unconstitutional, so Governor Jan Brewer cannot enforce the ban on benefits until the federal courts issue a final decision in the case.
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